Currie Cup semi-final race headed for dramatic finish
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