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Ken Borland


Sleeker Currie Cup leaves everyone with something to play for

Posted on October 17, 2012 by Ken

The sleek new six-team Currie Cup Premier Division has certainly ensured a more competitive format and, heading into this weekend’s final round-robin fixtures, all the teams remain in contention for the semi-finals, while the bottom four can all qualify for the knockout stages or finish last and be forced into a promotion/relegation battle.

Both the Sharks (30pts) and Lions (28pts) can sally forth into the last round of games secure in the knowledge that they have already clinched home semi-finals because the gap between them and the chasing pack is too large to be bridged.

Western Province and Griquas are tied on 20 points, while Free State and the Blue Bulls languish on 18.

Whoever finishes last on the Premier Division log will have to play promotion/relegation against the Watson father-and-son combination of the EP Kings after the ambitious Port Elizabeth team topped the First Division standings with an unbeaten 14-game run.

The Free State Cheetahs, after a poor season in which they have won just three of their nine games thus far, are probably most under pressure as they travel to Newlands to take on a Western Province outfit restored to full strength by their Springboks.

And Western Province will not be lacking any motivation as they are after a semi-final place and will be desperate to avoid the ignominy of a relegation battle, which will happen if they lose on Saturday and the Bulls beat the Lions in Johannesburg and Griquas upset the Sharks.

Lady Luck may have turned her face away from the Lions for much of this year, but the troubled defending champions have once again done extremely well in the Currie Cup and, because they have already sown up a home semi-final, can afford to rest some key players on Saturday, perhaps increasing the hopes of the Bulls.

For the Bulls, the permutations are simple. Win, and a semi-final place is their’s, lose and they will have to stave off relegation. (There is a third, more arcane possibility and that is if the Bulls lose but collect two bonus points then they can still finish fourth or fifth depending on how Griquas and Free State do).

The Bulls, with their strict adherence to game plan, and the Cheetahs, with a laissez-faire willingness to attack from anywhere, are on different ends of the playing spectrum but they have both landed themselves in trouble this season.

The Bulls can at least call upon a host of Springboks – Zane Kirchner, Morne Steyn, Jacques Potgieter, Flip van der Merwe, Juandre Kruger, Francois Hougaard, Bjorn Basson, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Dean Greyling – to try and turn their fortunes around at the death.

Western Province supporters, fed a steady diet of under-performance by a side that has gone trophy-less since 2001, are also putting their hopes in returning Springboks, with coach Allister Coetzee naming Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Duane Vermeulen, Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth and Tiaan Liebenberg in the starting line-up.

Coetzee has recently relaxed the defence-minded regimen he instituted with the Stormers, but against a team that likes an expansive game like the Cheetahs do, the argument that Western Province should perhaps play it tight and squeeze the visitors carries some weight.

Sharks coach John Plumtree, still haunted by last season’s events when he chose all his returning Springboks for the Currie Cup final and saw a more cohesive Lions team saunter to a 42-16 triumph, has meanwhile decided to phase his returning internationals back into action this time and only Pat Lambie makes it into the starting XV. Prop Jannie du Plessis, hooker Craig Burden and flank Marcell Coetzee are on the bench.

Tendai Mtawarira, Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo have the weekend off and will add tremendously to the depth in the squad when they return to contention for the semi-finals.

Griquas, meanwhile, have surprised each and everyone with their bold rugby and coach Pote Human has reaped the rewards of consistency in selection. He hasn’t got the depth to play around with like the bigger unions, however, so perhaps he had little other option, but Griquas have certainly impressed after most critics had them down for the relegation battle at the end of the season.

The Sharks have had a torrid time against the Griquas in Kimberley of late, but if the Northern Cape team can beat the log-leaders in Durban, it will be an enormous upset.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will no doubt also be an engrossed observer as Lambie starts at flyhalf for the first time since the early stages of SuperRugby.

It all adds up to an intriguing final weekend of action, the margins between failure and success being ridiculously small.

 

Weekend fixtures

Friday – Sharks v Griquas (Durban, 7.10pm)

Saturday – Western Province v Free State Cheetahs (Cape Town, 5.05pm)

Lions v Blue Bulls (Johannesburg, 7.10pm)

 

Log

Pos

Team

P

W

D

L

PF

PA

PD

TF

TA

BPts

Pts

1

The Sharks

9

6

0

3

250

230

20

27

18

6

30

2

MTN Golden Lions

9

6

0

3

256

229

27

24

23

4

28

3

DHL Western Province

9

4

0

5

236

211

25

23

17

4

20

4

GWK Griquas

9

4

0

5

247

271

-24

28

30

4

20

5

Toyota Free State Cheetahs

9

3

0

6

253

269

-16

24

28

6

18

6

Vodacom Blue Bulls

9

4

0

5

230

262

-32

19

29

2

18

 

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