A game being brought forward, a late change of venue and a blockbuster battle make for a unique Easter offering of Currie Cup rugby, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The winless Lions were originally scheduled to host Griquas at Ellis Park on Friday, but on Tuesday it was announced that the match will instead be played at Wits Rugby Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
The unbeaten Cheetahs are back from their bye and will be determined to continue their winning ways against Western Province in Cape Town on Friday and the Sharks and Bulls collide in a repeat of the last two finals in Durban on Saturday.
Lions v Griquas
Thursday, 14 April – 16:00
Will a historic change of scenery change the Lions’ fortunes? Not unless they load up on United Rugby Championship talent (teams yet to be announced at the time of writing).
Griquas will be kicking themselves for not taking their double-digit kickable penalties at goal against the Sharks last week, especially as they couldn’t buy a try despite dominating possession.
The 13-8 loss at home was a frustrating and costly lesson for Pieter Bergh’s men, who are now just one point ahead of the Pumas in fourth place. While their problems can be rectified, the Lions are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The young simply don’t have the physicality to remain competitive for 80 minutes. It was evident in their 49-17 loss in Kimberley a month ago and in the 45-10 loss to the Pumas last week, so the Peacock Blues are primed to bounce back.
Prediction: Griquas by 18.
Western Province v Cheetahs
Friday, 15 April – 16:45
Western Province will be quietly confident that they can hand the Cheetahs their first loss. They gave the Free Staters their biggest challenge of the season before succumbing 24-17 and gave the Bulls a serious run for their money before losing their way in the final quarter last week.
Both losses had a common thread, namely costly yellow cards. One undid their hard work in Bloemfontein, which included keeping the Cheetahs scoreless in the first half, and three sealed their fate at Loftus.
For a clinical and well-oiled side like the Cheetahs, that means sticking to their guns until the dam wall breaks, which is exactly what should happen, with Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn set to dictate terms in howling winds.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 14.
Sharks v Bulls
Saturday, 16 April – 17:00
With their crucial win in Kimberley, the Sharks snapped a two-match losing streak and gave themselves a slim chance of still securing a home semi-final. Drop this one, though, and the Bulls and Cheetahs are all but assured of the top two places.
The Sharks’ URC team have gained significant wet weather experienced in recent weeks and Etienne Fynn will be hoping to lend a few of those stars as rain is once again on the cards.
That they went nearly 50 minutes without scoring in the win over Griquas would’ve been worrying, but the main concern is their ongoing disciplinary issues. Their penalty count was high yet again last week, with captain James Venter also seeing yellow.
Especially in a rainy game, you’d expect the Bulls to take the points on offer. The men from Pretoria have been more disciplined and have momentum on their side, one of the four consecutive wins that have taken them to the top of the table being over the Sharks (35-21), so I expect them to do the double in Durban.
Prediction: Bulls by 5.
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