With the top six teams all still in with a real shot at the Currie Cup semis and heading into two weeks of critical games, the injury bogey seems to have struck, removing some key players as the competition reaches its business end.
With arguably the easiest run-in to the play-offs, the Cheetahs should manage to pick up ten points against Boland and the Leopards, although they’ll be forced to do so without their inspirational captain, Adriaan Strauss. One of the form hookers in the country at the moment, Strauss looks set to miss out on rest of the season thanks to a thumb injury and his loss will be more keenly felt in the knockout stages than it will be now. The Cheetahs’ destiny, though, is no longer solely in their own hands and they’ll need the Lions to lose at least one of their upcoming matches, as well as hoping that Griquas pick up no more than one point in total against the Bulls and the Sharks. A tough ask, but you’d have to say that it’s looking pretty good for them. Strauss’s cousin Richardt will get some much-needed gametime ahead of his move to Ireland next year, but it remains to be seen whether promising number 8 Ashley Johnston will be pressed into service as a reserve hooker.
The Bulls have now forced their way into the top 4 and will look to press on against Griquas this weekend. Now only two points behind the Kimberley crew, a win will see them consolidate third place, which will probably be the highest they can really hope to attain, barring a real disaster for either Province or the Sharks. They have also lost a hooker, though, with Chilliboy Rallepele to sit the next few weeks out with an injured foot. In Bandise Maku they have an able replacement, though and the team is only getting stronger with Bryan Habana set to return this week. Fourie du Preez and Bakkies Botha are still on the sidelines but they should come back into the picture in time for the semi finals.
The Lions really are the dark horse team here – or rather, not to give them more credit than they deserve, they are the team with the most potential to upset the apple cart, should they manage to beat either the Sharks away, or Western Province at home. They’ll obviously be going all out to claim both scalps, since their own ridiculously slender play-off hopes hinge on them picking up two wins, along with as many bonus points as are needed to edge Griquas and the Cheetahs out of fourth place. Having lost their only really class backline player, Janno Vermaak, it’s going to be an uphill struggle, but I can’t shake the feeling that the Lions may just have one more surprising performance in them this season.
As for the Sharks and Province – well, it couldn’t be more neck-and-neck, but after the latter’s impressive points difference against Griquas and with a gimme game to come against Boland, the Sharks will, in all likelihood, find themselves going into the final weekend in second place, Province having overtaken them, virtue of a five-point thrashing of Boland. The Sharks can avoid this scenario, of course, by scoring a bonus point of their own against the Lions. That may turn out to be easier said than done, though. The following week should see the tables turned again, though, with the Sharks fancying their chances of a full house against a Griquas team that now looks as though the fight has gone out of them. Province will also be chasing a bonus point at the Coke Tin, though and anyone who claims that first and second positions have already been decided has clearly not done their homework.
On the injury front, Province will be without winger Gio Aplon for the next two weeks – a blow, as the pint-size sevens specialist has been in good form. The Sharks are still without Jean Deysel and Craig Burden, but both should be back in time for the trip to Kimberley. Coach John Plumtree has some selection headaches this week as he welcomes back Beast Mtawarira, John Smit, Johann Muller, Riaan Swanepoel, JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane.Tweet