Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Boosted by significant batches
of returning Springboks, the Sharks and Western Province could yet repeat their
2010 presence in this year’s Absa Currie Cup final.
The two coastal franchises have been easily
the main beneficiaries of welcome strengthening of their respective arsenals
after South Africa’s quarter-final exit from the World Cup – there was evidence
of that in abundance during the last series of round-robin fixtures this
Instead of coming home jaded and depressed
after the controversial loss to Australia in Wellington a few days ago, players
like Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh and Schalk Burger showed plenty of gusto
as Province secured fourth spot on the table in beating the Pumas 43-18 at
Newlands, whilst the “grunt” of such customers as Willem Alberts and Bismarck
du Plessis (both off the bench in the second half) was instrumental in the
Sharks easily achieving their objective of a home semi-final against the
The champions thrashed the table-topping
Lions, who started with a weakened XV knowing that their own home semi was
already assured, with the required bonus point to pip the Free Staters to
second place and force Naka Drotske’s charges to make travel plans for next
Meanwhile the Lions, presumably not too
miffed about playing clear second fiddle in Durban given that there was so
little at stake for them, will entertain Province -- as heavily anticipated
despite the Bulls’ gutsy attempt to stay in the last-four picture -- at Ellis
Considering that they thumped WP 42-25 at
the venue only a week ago, the Highveld side will certainly still feel that
they have their beating once again.
But it is also obvious that the visitors will
enter the knockout phase with a significantly less wet-behind-the-ears team
than the one they fielded in the heavy reverse.
That will apply especially to the backline,
of course -- although Burger’s frenzied work-rate and physical relish will make
a difference up front, the WP tight five as presently constituted is no great
shakes at all with key surnames like Bekker and Elstadt absentees from the
second row and two loosehead props, Steven Kitshoff and Wicus Blaauw, also out
for the remainder of the season.
They have too few reliable lineout forwards
available and the scrum was in disconcerting reverse at times against the meaty
Pumas pack in a scrappy encounter marked by flashes of brilliance – several of
them from the in-form Bok midfielder De Villiers, who led Province on the day.
The Sharks, meanwhile, appear to be hitting
some fresh momentum at a good time: watered-down Lions side or not, going past
the 50-point mark was a strong signal of semis intent.
Their opponents next week, the Cheetahs,
are not finding tries hard to come by – they got six in the 49-39 derby win against
Griquas on Saturday -- but a feeling persists that their defence can be a
little porous and the battlers from Kimberley cashed in at times.
Home advantage could be a vital factor for
the Sharks: in “league” play this season each side won their respective home
fixture – the Cheetahs prevailed 53-32 in Bloemfontein on September 17, whilst
the Sharks triumphed at Mr Price Kings Park 43-34 on July 30.
In last year’s final, the Sharks
comfortably saw off Province 30-10 in Durban.
line-up on Saturday, unless any scheduling changes are made:
14:30: Sharks v Cheetahs, Durban; 17:00:
Lions v Western Province, Johannesburg.