The Sharks and Cheetahs will look to remain undefeated when the South African rugby spotlight shifts back onto the Currie Cup this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The log-leading Durbanites kick-off the fifth round with a tricky assignment against the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday night. The Bulls have an even harder nut to crack in Kimberley, where Griquas are keen on claiming another big scalp in the first of Saturday’s fixtures followed by the catfight between the Cheetahs and the Lions in Bloemfontein.
Pumas v Sharks
Friday, 4 March – 19:00
It may be early days, but the Pumas will be feeling the pressure with just a solitary win from their four fixtures. The latest loss – 28-17 to the Cheetahs – was the most disappointing as it came at home and was a frustratingly stuttering showing in which passes just didn’t stick.
They’ll take heart from the fact that they had the ascendency in the set pieces, however, melting under maul attacks is a weakness the Sharks will look to exploit. For the Durbanites, discipline will be their primary focus.
Although they were in control throughout, conceding three yellow cards made things unnecessarily hairy in the second half of their match against the Lions in the last round, which they won 45-31.
Add to that the fact that indiscipline was the main reason why the Cheetahs weren’t able to put the Pumas to bed. I see the unbeaten Sharks staying sharp and picking up a comfortable win as a result.
Griquas v Bulls
Saturday, 5 March – 14:30
The boy is this a big game for the Bulls, and a tough one to call with the teams yet to be announced at the time of writing. Shell-shocked by the Cheetahs at Loftus last time out, the defending champions can ill-afford a second straight loss to crash to a 50% win record. They’ll be feeling the heat in Kimberley, where Griquas saw off Western Province yet again after pumping the Pumas.
It’s gut-check time for Gert Smal’s charges and a test of the Peacock Blues’ play-off credentials. Continuity is king for the hosts, whereas the visitors have more star power but chopping and changing have proved to be a hit-and-miss practice.
You’d have to give Griquas the edge, however, considering the high premium the men from Pretoria have put on completing a rare three-peat, I expect them to put their best foot forward and make a rebounding statement with a narrow win.
Cheetahs v Lions
Saturday, 5 March – 17:00
Given their commanding form, the Cheetahs are going to be tough to beat, especially in Bloemfontein, where they kicked off their campaign with a comfortable 10-point win over Griquas before claiming away wins over the Bulls (38-25) and Pumas (28-17).
The Lions showed some promise at the tail-end of their last outing against the Sharks, but they were never in the contest and fell well short of breaking their duck. Stuck at the bottom of the log, defence remains their biggest shortcoming, with the young side leaking over 40 points per game.
Isolated thunderstorms are forecast throughout the day. Hopefully, one won’t hit during the game, but odds are the field will be soggy, which would slow the Cheetahs down and dilute their potency to an extent. Either way, the teams will continue their respective unbeaten and winless runs.
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