Rugby

Fans of the Carling Currie Cup

Both teams have already secured home semifinals in the competition, but will want to put their depth to the test and build momentum ahead of the playoffs, which are expected to be tight affairs.

Many fans of the Carling Currie Cup will be unsurprised to learn that the frantic competition has taken its toll on teams from all over the country.

And, moving into the last weekend, two semifinal berths are up for grabs, with one team that usually shines in the league – DHL Western Province – perhaps missing out entirely.

The decision to schedule games in the middle of the week to assist conclude the tournament and give local sides plenty of time to prepare for the United Rugby Championship has taken its toll, but it could turn out to be a gift in disguise for certain teams in desperate need of reinforcements.

One thing is certain: the two front-runners, the Vodacom Bulls and the Cell C Sharks, have demonstrated how much their structures are aligned to success and creating depth as both teams look forward to their entry into Europe, and to reigniting their battle that ended in a 100-minute final in January.

Both teams have already secured home semifinals in the competition, but will want to put their depth to the test and build momentum ahead of the playoffs, which are expected to be tight affairs.

But, thanks to their own investment initiatives from private equity partners, they are already pulling away from the pack, and it comes as no surprise that they are the country’s best hope for URC entrance next month.

While both the Sigma Lions and DHL WP will blame injuries and a heavy workload for their current standings on the log, their internal feuds, which have played out in the media, have taken their toll, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a shake-up at either franchise after this season ahead of the looming European battles that await them.

All of this implies that the New Nation Pumas and Tafel Lager Griquas, two of the country’s less attractive clubs, might sneak into the semis and leave John Dobson’s WP wondering what could have been.

The playoff clubs will be separated from the rest by three back-to-back SuperSport games, with WP’s match against the Sharks the highlight of a crowded rugby day.

Tafel Lager Griquas vs. New Nation Pumas – 14h30 kick-off

Possibly the most exciting game of the weekend, as both of these teams have put in their fair share of giant-killing exploits and both deserve to be in the playoff picture. They have set a high standard in terms of performance and have won away from home this season, which is a noteworthy contrast from their regular Currie Cup campaigns and puts them in the race for the semis.

While whichever wins in Durban later on Saturday will determine a lot of the final log positions, both clubs can’t afford to lose this one if they want to be guaranteed a playoff spot.

Both teams won their games last weekend and are in good form, with the Pumas narrowly winning the identical Currie Cup match in Nelspruit 26-22 earlier this season.

One thing is certain: whomever wins this match will be guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals. However, if the game is open and high-scoring, this is when things become interesting.

Griquas and Pumas both have a higher point differential than WP, with Griquas on +19 and Pumas on +18, respectively, compared to WP’s -5. Even if WP wins with a bonus point in Durban, if Griquas loses but gets two bonus points, the game in Durban will be meaningless. If the Pumas lose but earn two bonus points, WP must either lose or win without a bonus point in Durban to qualify.

PREDICTION: A high-scoring, close game, with the Pumas winning by fewer than seven points.

KICK-OFF: 16h45, VODACOM BULLS VS TOYOTA CHEETAHS

The Bulls have already qualified for the semifinals and may only need a bonus point to clinch first place on the log for the second year in a row. This will be ensured with a win against a Cheetahs team that has been in chaos all season and has lost a lot of games they could have won.

While the Bulls will chuckle at the fact that the Sharks are close on the log because they had several games cancelled due to Covid and were awarded four points for the cancellation – the Bulls have two more wins than the Sharks – they will be more concerned with continuing their title defence under Jake White.

White has adjusted the lineup every game and has played his cards well all season, earning the results he needed from the squad while also adding depth with an eye on the URC later on. In every way, they appear to be the South African team with the best chance in Europe.

They do, however, have a mental hurdle when facing the Cheetahs, a team that has often caused them issues in the Currie Cup. While the Bulls aren’t anticipated to lose, the game is likely to be open and thrilling, allowing them to maintain the momentum they’ve built thus far.

PREDICTION: The Bulls will win by a score of 7-10.

DHL WP VS CELL C SHARKS, KICK OFF: 19h00

The most exciting game of the night, especially because WP has under-performed all season and has been a shadow of what was expected of them. While they have played more games than other teams, have injury worries, and are missing their Springboks, the level of play from Dobson’s side has been underwhelming, and they will have a stiff test in Durban without the likes of Warrick Gelant and the inspiring Evan Roos.

The Sharks have moved their tight five, and while there are still worries about their front row, this is likely to be the point at which the game is won or lost, since WP’s previous few victories in Durban have been built on the strength of their pack.

Rain predicted for the game in Durban appears to be removing much of the flare from the game, with both teams opting for territory, which the Sharks can exploit if they get enough ball to win the territory fight.

Despite the fact that WP will fancy their chances, with the Sharks having defeated the Bulls, Cheetahs, and Lions in their last three matches, the home side will start as favorites, and unless the Cape visitors can produce something remarkable, their season is likely to come to an end here.

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