Cur­rie Cup semi-fi­nal race headed for dra­matic fin­ish

Daily News - - SPORT -

THE Cur­rie Cup Pre­mier Di­vi­sion semi-fi­nal race will come to a dra­matic end this week­end as five teams bat­tle it out for three re­main­ing play-off spots.

To add to the com­pet­i­tive na­ture of the round, spec­ta­tors will see the re­turn to ac­tion of sev­eral Spring­boks in­volved in the re­cently-com­pleted Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

The Sharks are guar­an­teed of host­ing one of the semi-fi­nals next week af­ter earn­ing the top po­si­tion on the log, while West­ern Prov­ince, the Free State Chee­tahs, the Golden Lions and Blue Bulls will go head-to-head for the other home semi-fi­nal as the com­pe­ti­tion reaches the business end. The Pu­mas are also still in the run­ning for fin­ish­ing in the top four, al­though they will have to travel if they do man­age that.

West­ern Prov­ince, who are cur­rently in sec­ond place on the log, may need only a vic­tory in Dur­ban achieve this feat as they boast a one-point cush­ion and a com­pre­hen­sive points’ dif­fer­ence over the third-placed Free State Chee­tahs, but this would re­quire top­pling log-lead­ers the Sharks in Dur­ban. A de­feat, in turn, could dash their semi-fi­nal as­pi­ra­tions com­pletely.

The Golden Lions will host the Free State Chee­tahs in Jo­han­nes­burg in the fi­nal pool match to­mor­row, mean­ing these teams will know ex­actly what they need to do to fin­ish in sec­ond place and in the top four re­spec­tively by the time they take to the field.

The Blue Bulls and Pu­mas will kick off the round in Pre­to­ria to­day and both sides will be des­per­ate for a vic­tory to stay in con­tention for a play­off spot, as a de­feat with­out a bonus point for ei­ther West­ern Prov­ince, the Free State Chee­tahs or Golden Lions could see the win­ning team through to the top four.

The Mpumalanga side won only one of the last six fix­tures be­tween the teams, with that vic­tory be­ing a morale-boost­ing 51-15 vic­tory in Au­gust.

The Pu­mas, mean­while, made five per­son­nel changes, most of which were in­jury-en­forced, which sees full­back Ger­rit Smit, winger Selom Ga­vor, flankers Chris Cloete and Nar­dus van der Walt, and lock Jan­nie Stander earn starts.

The ac­tion will con­tinue at Kings Park at 3pm Satur­day where the Sharks take on West­ern Prov­ince and, while the home team will be de­ter­mined to build win­ning mo­men­tum af­ter a bye last week, the vis­i­tors will give ev­ery­thing to book a home semi-fi­nal.

The KwaZulu-Natal­ians have had a solid sea­son and are cur­rently on a win­ning run of 10 matches, while the op­po­si­tion comes off a dis­ap­point­ing de­feat against the Golden Lions, so will be de­ter­mined to bounce back from to en­sure that they fin­ish in the top four and find their rhythm ahead of the knock-out stages.

Fu­elling the Cape side’s mo­ti­va­tion, the last time West­ern Prov­ince de­feated the Sharks at home was in 2012, while the home team pipped them 21-20 in Cape Town ear­lier in the sea­son.

The only change to the Sharks run-on team is the re­turn of cen­tre Lukhanyo Am in place of Tris­tan Blewett, while the bench has been boosted by Spring­boks Chili­boy Rale­pelle and Jean-Luc du Preez.

West­ern Prov­ince wel­comed back Spring­bok winger Dil­lyn Leyds and prop Wilco Louw to their start­ing line-up, with the only other change be­ing the in­clu­sion of flanker Jaco Coet­zee in the loose trio.

The grand fi­nale to the pool stages be­tween the Golden Lions and Free State Chee­tahs in Jo­han­nes­burg at 5.15pm to­mor­row is ex­pected to be equally thrilling.

The Free Stater’s have won the last three out­ings be­tween the sides, which in­cluded a nar­row 30-24 vic­tory against the Gaut­eng out­fit in Au­gust.

The Golden Lions bol­stered their team with Spring­boks as they re­called full­back An­dries Coet­zee, winger Court­nall Skosan and scrumhalf Ross Cronje, among six per­son­nel changes to the start­ing team, while hooker Mal­colm Marx has been named on the bench.

The Free State Chee­tahs made whole­sale changes to their side, with hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld lead­ing the side, Spring­bok Ray­mond Rhule start­ing at full­back and Spring­bok Sevens play-maker Rosko Spec­man on the wing. – ANA

CHILI­BOY RALE­PELLE

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