Let’s have a look at the two big semi-final match-ups in the Currie Cup this weekend and see if we can pick the winners.
Sharks v Blue Bulls
The first semi, between the first-placed Sharks and fourth-placed Bulls really should be an easy one to call – and probably would be so – had it not been for the visitors’ impressive showing at Coca Cola Park last weekend. All of a sudden, the Bulls have been propelled into the spotlight and far from relegation-threatened also-rans, they now look as though they may just be contenders for a title that appeared to be well out of their grasp midway through the season. The Sharks, too, were impressive against Griquas, though. They have strengthened their side this week without making wholesale changes and also have the benefit of having played the better rugby pretty much all season. The anticipated wet weather will be a leveller, though, reducing this one to an arm wrestle which either team, realistically could win. We’re going to give this one to the home side, though, based on three factors; better form during the regular season, more recent play-off experience and, perhaps most importantly, home ground advantage. It will be close, though, so we’re calling a Sharks victory by no more than 4 points.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandré Marais, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Steven Sykes/Peet Marais, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Meyer Bosman.
Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Dean Greyling.
Golden Lions v Western Province
In a reprise of last year’s second semi-final, the Lions host Province in a game that many are expecting the visitors to walk away with, based on the return of their host of Boks players. Fate, though, has dealt Province a bit of a shady hand, in that none of Tiaan Liebenberg, Andries Bekker or (most importantly) Jean de Villiers will be fit to play. Much of the recent Province hype seems to be centred around their good win against a lacklustre Cheetahs outfit last week and the challenge for them will be to maintain that level of play when suddenly bereft of three of their stars. For the Lions, though, there’s been some disruption too and we mustn’t forget that Johan Ackermann’s once log-leaders haven’ won a game in their last two starts and are looking just a little bedraggled at the moment, given injuries to Deon van Rensburg and especially Lionel Mapoe. This one s going to be a proper humdinger and only a fool would claim he is confident of the result. My gut, though, says that the Lions – playing for pride as they have been all campaign – will have just a little too much in the tank for Province, who haven’t looked the business under the captaincy of Deon Fourie this year. Lions to squeak a win here, by around 3 points.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach/Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 CJ van der Linde/Pat Cilliers, 18 Hendrik Roodt, 19 Derick Minnie, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Butch James, 22 Deon Helberg.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Damian de Allende, 22 Joe Pietersen.