Well, needles to say, things didn’t quite pan out as expected for us Sharks fans last weekend. Instead of us being able to sit back and watch the impending WP-Bulls clash, relishing the thought of the loser slipping back even further into third place, we now have somewhat of a conundrum on our hands.
There is very little doubt in my mind that in the Sharks, WP and the Blue Bulls, we have the teams who will occupy positions one through three on the final log. The fourth spot will go to one of the Cheetahs (my pick), the Lions or Griquas. The Leopards could put paid to Griquas’ semiinal aspirations once and for all this weekend, which I think they will manage to do. The Lions, should they lose to an in-form Cheetahs outfit in Bloemfontein, will also have too much ground to make up.
The really intersting match will take place in Cape Town, assuming, of course, that the Sharks manage five points against a Boland team “mysteriously” packed full of WP reserves this week. Provein are in top spot right now, with 28 points. The Sharks are a point further back in second, while the Bulls are third with 25.
From a Sharks perspective, it’s very tempting to haul out the horns this weekend, knowing that a Bulls win should see us go back to the top of the log. We should end up on 32 after the weekend, with the Bulls second on 29 and Province third, perhaps still on 28 or maybe also with 29, depending on the margin of defeat. The important thing to realise, though, is that the Bulls play us next week – at Loftus. To my mind, we don’t want that game to represent a chance for the Bulls to knock us off top spot because once hey are in pole position, they won’t easily relinquish it again.
To my mind, it would suit our purposes far more if Province could beat the Bulls, thus opening up enough of a buffer to allow us to lose at Loftus, yet still end higher than the Pretoria crew. Province, in that scenario, may well finish above us, but I must say that I prefer the prospect of a potential final at Newlands than I do traveling to Pretoria. Remember that Province have a scant handful of Bok players returning, whereas both the Sharks and the Bulls should be at close to Super 14 strength by the time the seimi-finals come around.
In order to retain the Currie Cup, the Sharks are going to have to show that we can beat anyone in a knockout match, anywhere, but I would rate our chances far more if we could ensure a semi-final in Durban and a final at any venue at all other than Loftus Versveld.
So, for that reason, my choice is clear.