Currie Cup

'Fab Friday' in Currie Cup

2013-09-21 23:00
Lwazi Mvovo (Gallo)
Cape Town – The Currie Cup, that proud old boxer consistently refusing to crash to the canvas, fittingly loses little of its lustre next weekend.

Another full programme has been scheduled despite the Castle Rugby Championship Test between the Springboks and Wallabies at Newlands grabbing centre stage on Saturday ... but the best two games of the eighth round deftly sidestep that drawback by being staged on Friday evening.

They feature all of the quartet of teams currently occupying the “semi-final” berths, as first the Cheetahs host defending champions Western Province in Bloemfontein (17:05) and then the Golden Lions tackle the Sharks in Johannesburg (19:10).

Even the 14:00 television curtain-raiser, as it were, to the Test match on Saturday falls into the high-stakes category as it features the basement Griquas at home to the similarly ailing Blue Bulls, only one point ahead of them in fifth on the log.

Particularly attractive, based on form in the latest round, is the Ellis Park clash, given that the Lions enter it on the back of a 35-26, full-house victory over the Bulls in the Highveld derby, whilst the Sharks produced the champagne performance of the weekend to blow away the Cheetahs 50-26.

In their strongest statement yet since the advent of the “Brendan Venter way” at Kings Park, the Sharks ran in seven tries to also grab the maximum five points from the round and return to the top of the table, a whisker ahead of Province although they are level on 24 log points each.

With captain Keegan Daniel typically among the standouts in that department, his side showed brilliant, creative off-loading ability against a surprisingly out-of-sorts Cheetahs team, going a long way to squashing some perhaps needless fears that the installation of Venter to the director of rugby post in Durban would see a safety-first philosophy take root.

With just three rounds of round-robin activity left, and the Sharks benefiting from the restoration to the starting line-up of such vibrant customers as Marcell Coetzee and Pieter-Steph du Toit to their pack, they have sent out a clear signal that hosting of a second successive final – and by extension an opportunity to avenge last year’s defeat to underdogs WP – is well within their capability.

Both coastal outfits have pretty tough run-ins to the semis phase, including the disadvantage of each having to play two of their remaining trio of matches away.

Weighing nicely in the Sharks’ favour for possible table-topping status in a few weeks’ time, however, is home staging of the potentially critical fixture on October 12 against Province – still the only unbeaten side, though labouring in the bonus points area.

Former Springbok coach and popular SuperSport pundit Nick Mallett believes that these two teams “look the most competent by far” in the competition as things stand, suggesting a carbon-copy showpiece game could be on the cards on October 26.

Still, the competitive, closely-fought nature of the round-robin play has been such that several contrary permutations remain quite possible.

What does appear fairly likely is that the challenge of both Griquas and the Bulls for the semis has now been doused, although mathematically they remain in the frame and the winner of Saturday’s Kimberley meeting between them may feel some sense of late revitalisation.

The Lions v Sharks clash has the potential to be a real humdinger on the fast Ellis Park surface: the visitors will probably look a tad steelier on paper, and have the benefit of knowing they won the Durban encounter 33-25 in mid-August.

But the Lions side has admirable spirit, while also being one of the best in conditioning terms in this year’s race so far.

Seatbelts on, the Currie Cup 2013 ride is only getting faster ...

Remaining matches for the present top four:

Sharks (24 points): Lions (a), Blue Bulls (a), WP (h)

WP (24 points): Cheetahs (a), Lions (h), Sharks (a)

Lions (20 points): Sharks (h), WP (a), Griquas (h)

Cheetahs (16 points): WP (h), Griquas (a), Blue Bulls (h)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    currie cup  |  rugby

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