It’s all to play for in the final round of the Currie Cup regular season this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The round-robin phase is set to reach a thrilling climax as the all-important number one playoff seed and the last two semi-finalists will be determined.
Having already qualified, the second-placed Cheetahs (43) and log-leading Bulls (47) will battle it out in Bloemfontein on Saturday with a first-place finish at stake, while Griquas (31), the Pumas (27) and the Sharks (26) will be vying for the remaining playoff places.
The Sharks are on the road for a must-win clash against Western Province (15), which has been moved and brought forward from Cape Town on Saturday to Stellenbosch on Friday afternoon because of the Stormers’ home United Rugby Championship semi-final against Ulster, with the Pumas and Griquas going head-to-head in Nelspruit on Friday night.
Western Province v Sharks
Friday, 10 June – 16:00
Consecutive losses to the Pumas (20-10), Cheetahs (44-15), and Lions (38-32) see the Sharks sitting fifth, five points behind Griquas and one behind the Pumas. The points-difference situation is 37 for Griquas, 42 for the Pumas, and -22 for the Sharks.
That means two log points could potentially be enough for the Sharks to sneak into the semi-finals, should Griquas win the evening encounter, whereas on the flip side, they would be all but out if the Pumas prevail and Griquas secure a losing bonus point.
The franchise’s United Rugby Championship quarter-final exit last weekend won’t provide the full atomic bomb-like boost it could have, with their 10 best players having gone straight into the Springbok camp.
However, it’ll make for a major injection of next-level talent nonetheless, which will power them past a Province side who’ve won just two games all season and give them the best possible chance of advancing.
Prediction: Sharks by at least 18.
Pumas v Griquas
Friday, 10 June – 18:00
After coming back from the dead, in rugby terms, to pull off a phenomenal comeback against Western Province last weekend, third-placed Griquas have one foot in the semi-finals. They only need one log point to advance to the final four, but the Peacock Blues will be determined to make it three wins in a row.
The Pumas clawed their way back into fourth place with a shock 29-28 win over the Cheetahs last weekend and will be desperate to seize the day after missing out on the semi-finals by a single point last season. While a bonus-point win would seal the deal, a straight-up triumph should also be enough.
Griquas scored a dominant 41-20 win the last time the minnows met in February. Indiscipline was Jimmy Stonehouse’s men’s undoing on the day as they conceded a slew of penalties and three yellow cards. You’d expect them to tighten up in this regard and their ability to convert half-chances should make for a closer contest.
The Pumas’ main shortcoming, however, remains. They conceded three maul tries against the Cheetahs last weekend and two in the Round Three clash in Kimberley, the first of which was a penalty try, so I’m tipping Griquas to edge it.
Prediction: Griquas by 4.
Cheetahs v Bulls
Saturday, 11 June – 17:45
Injuries, especially the loss of Frans Steyn, have contributed but aren’t solely to blame for the Cheetahs’ costly implosion in the last two rounds.
Having gone from a perfect nine from nine to suffering back-to-back losses to Griquas (48-16) and the Pumas (29-28), the Free Staters now need to not only beat but also deny the Bulls a bonus point to leapfrog them and finish at the top of the log.
The Bulls have won seven in a row but are coming off a bye and, most significantly, are more depleted than usual with a squad of 28 making the trip to Dublin for Friday’s United Rugby Championship semi-final against Leinster. That means Gert Smal is without key Currie Cup contributors like Simphiwe Matanzima, WJ Steenkamp, Bernard van der Linde, and Marco Jansen van Vuren.
As a result, the Cheetahs should get back to winning ways, but I believe the Bulls will secure the all-important four-try bonus point.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 12.
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