Sharks, WP in 'home' run
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Coastal semi-finals in the Absa Currie Cup have moved ever nearer after the latest round of matches.
log-leading Sharks seem virtually unstoppable now, having banked a full
house of log points against fellow-semis contenders the Free State
Cheetahs on Saturday to retain an eight-point gap over Western Province
with only three weekends of round-robin fare left.
may well have the luxury of not needing anything out of their final
league fixture against the very same Province at Newlands on October 9,
provided that they beat the Lions in Johannesburg next weekend and then
bag a routine home victory against the winless Leopards.
there is the possibility of an uncannily similar scenario to the last
round of Vodacom Super 14 matches this year, when the Bulls opted to
field a largely second-string side against the Stormers because
finishing top of the table was already assured.
Capetonians might find themselves “beneficiaries” of such a policy,
given that the Sharks may cocoon some core personnel for the semis a
That said, several Springboks presently out of
competition will be available by then and probably in need of
game-time, so the visitors ought to be keen to field the likes of
Bismarck du Plessis, John Smit, Jannie du Plessis, JP Pietersen and
Encouragingly, though, their “reserve” front
row played an influential role in subduing the Cheetahs 30-16, despite
the visiting outfit fielding such highly-touted individuals as Coenie
Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss and WP Nel.
There was also a robust
showing from Ryan Kankowski at No 8: he seems hell-bent this season on
proving he is capable of honest donkey work rather than just featuring
as a game-breaking stallion in open play.
WP confirmed that
their mid-campaign wobble is a thing of the past with their high-tempo
trampling of the Pumas at Mbombela Stadium on Friday night, and they
appear to be hitting a renewed upward curve at a handy time.
will need to sustain it, because after Griquas at Newlands this Friday
comes a stiff run-in featuring the Blue Bulls at Loftus and then the
Sharks crunch – but two wins from their three remaining games is a nice
incentive to bank a home semi-final.
Also to consider is that,
although the third-placed Bulls certainly have a shout at ending
second, WP’s five-point superiority is also fortified by an
immeasurably better “for and against” situation: they are 216 points in
credit to the Bulls’ mere 34.
So somehow the Bulls may well have
to be six log points better than Province over the last three weeks of
pre-semis action in order to nose ahead.
The champions will
simply be relieved at present to have broken a promising unbeaten run
by the improving Lions in the Highveld derby, pipping them 24-21 to
move up two places and simultaneously elbow the Johannesburg-based team
back into fifth.
It was far from plain sailing at Loftus for the
Bulls, but remember that they have been the worst-affected side by
Springbok absenteeism and just getting into the semis is the
overwhelming objective right now – once their full quota of Boks return
they will not especially fear the prospect of a knockout phase likely
to be entirely “on the road”.
The Lions are far from ready to be
world-beaters yet, but even in gutsy defeat (they had seemed right out
of it at 24-9 early in the final quarter) they did demonstrate the
renewed pride in the jersey that has been sparked by the coaching
qualities of John Mitchell and Carlos Spencer.
them, the Cheetahs, now one spot and one point ahead of the Lions in
fourth, have the easier run-in of the two – including a potentially
highly influential meeting between those very foes with the advantage
of it being in Bloemfontein in a fortnight.
Griquas in sixth are
not out of the picture, by any means, as they lurk only two points off
a “last four” position as things stand.
But they have a tough
trio of games, starting in Cape Town on Friday and also including the
visit of the Bulls to Kimberley on the final day of the round-robin
Remaining fixtures for the top six sides:
Sharks (46 points): Lions (away), Leopards (home), WP (away)
WP (38 points): Griquas (home), Bulls (away), Sharks (home)
Blue Bulls (33 points): Leopards (away), WP (home), Griquas (away)
Cheetahs (32 points): Pumas (home), Lions (home), Leopards (away)
Lions (31 points): Sharks (home), Cheetahs (away), Pumas (home)
Griquas (30 points): WP (away), Pumas (away), Bulls (home)