Wow – it feels as though the Currie Cup has only just started, but in fact, it’s actually already starting to reach its conclusive stages, with only four more rounds of regular season action to come.
The log is starting to separate out just a little, but with one getting the feeling that any team could realistically beat any other at any stage, you can be sure that there will still be a few surprises along the way. This week, bizarrely, sees 1 play 2, 3 play 4 and 5 play 6, meaning for each team, there’s a great opportunity to gain serious ground on the team that is most directly threatening their position. Let’s see if we can call the results.
Western Province v Griquas
Province have really been up and down this season and while a great home win against the Bulls and a follow-up win against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein suddenly propelled them to the top of the log, they certainly hit rock bottom and kept digging to new lows in their despicable display against the Sharks last week. They’ve made a raft of changes again this week for the clash against in-form Griquas, who now finally seem to have the belief that smaller teams need to sustain momentum in this competition. My feeling, though, is that beating Province at home is going to be a bridge too far for the plucky Kwaste, so I’m backing the home side to bounce back this week. Province to win by around 8 points.
Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Helmut Lehmann, 19 JJ Gagiano, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Damian de Allende.
Griquas: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Richard Lawson, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Walter Venter, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Wesley Wilkins, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Ligtoring Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Ivann Espag, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Luzuko Vulindlu.
Blue Bulls v Cheetahs
They say a wounded bull is the most desperate kind and I guess the Cheetahs will find out at Loftus this weekend whether that really is the case. This is an awfully hard one to call because both teams really are in pretty atrocious nick at the moment. The Bulls, though, have been bolstered somewhat by the return of a few Bok fringe players and with a better-looking combination at halfback this week, they should probably manage to hold the fort at home. The joker here, from a Cheetahs points of view, is Raymond Rhule and if he can find any space in which to operate, could prove deadly at outside centre. If the Bulls can manage to keep him quiet, they’ll win. Bulls by 4.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Cornell Hess, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Lionel Cronjé, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Raymond Rhule, 12 Robert Ebersohn (captain), 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Tewis de Bruyn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Sias Ebersohn, 21 Philip Snyman, 22 Andries Strauss.
Lions v Sharks
We end the round with a top-of-the-table clash in Johannesburg and for the Sharks, who bounced back nicely against Province last weekend, road trips simply don’t come any tougher than this one. The side hasn’t managed a win at Coca-Cola Park in any competition since 2010 and the memory of the recent embarrassing Super Rugby loss at the same venue will certainly provide no shortage of motivation. A weaker Sharks side than the one named here dispatched the Lions with ease in the first round, but one fancies that for the Sharks to be realistic title contenders this year, they are going to have to show that they can win on Johannesburg. As the saying goes, there’s no time like the present… With the Sharks bolstered by genuine game breakers in Craig Burden and Lwazi Mvovo, you’d fancy they would have the good to score tries against the Lions. The key, though, is to prevent the Lions building an early lead, which in the past has proved hard for the Sharks to chase down at altitude. That has been the secret of all their recent successes and if the Sharks can manage a fast start and prevent the Lions from scoring tries in the first half, they’ll stand a good chance of winning. It’s going to be tough, but I think the Sharks will win, by around 5 points.
Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Tim Whitehead, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Riaan Viljoen, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Keegan Daniel (Capt), 7. Jean Deysel , 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Anton Bresler, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Dale Chadwick
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Brynard Stander, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Paul Jordaan, 22 Sibusiso Sithole