Currie Cup

WP-Sharks to be ‘dead’ clash?

2014-10-05 19:00
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – It seems like a dream last-round Absa Currie Cup clash on paper ... and that’s what may well have been initially intended as last year’s finalists the Sharks and Western Province lock horns at Newlands on Saturday.

But there is a very good chance, instead, that by kickoff time between the traditional coastal rivals – the Sharks defending champions and WP the 2013 runners-up – the fixture will have absolutely nothing at stake in terms of the race for semi-final slots.

That is because Province, having come from behind to snatch a late bonus-point victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, are already guaranteed top-placed finish (and the rights to both a home semi and possible final) regardless of the outcome against their visitors from KZN.

Allister Coetzee’s charges are an unassailable eight points clear of anyone else entering the last weekend of regular-season play.

Given the order of business next Saturday, with the second-placed Golden Lions entertaining a Cheetahs outfit now unlikely to make the cut immediately ahead of the Cape fixture, the Highveld side will have assured themselves of second spot if they manage a routine victory at Ellis Park.

Just winning without a bonus point would propel the Lions to 35 points ... and that would give the Sharks, six points adrift if that occurs, no chance against WP of overhauling them to hosting of the second home semi.

Under such circumstances, and even if they then lost at Newlands, the Sharks would also not face the danger of being thrown out of third spot themselves, because as things stand the improving Blue Bulls, in fourth, are six points shy of them and already out of reach of anything but the last qualifying berth.

So it is only if the Lions have lost or perhaps drawn a few minutes earlier in Johannesburg, that the Sharks will have the proper incentive to throw the kitchen sink at Province.

Particularly for WP, the temptation will be extremely strong to rest several overworked players next weekend: names that come swiftly to mind include the massively dependable and unyielding loose forwards Nizaam Carr and Michael Rhodes, in-form centre and captain Juan de Jongh, and perhaps a couple of front row staffers.

There is always the argument that you risk disrupting continuity or winning mentality by ringing too many changes but, frankly, that principle should be overlooked by Coetzee – not the greatest by reputation at rotating players – at this advanced, fatiguing point of the rugby year.

You have to imagine that a safely cocooned, effective “bye” weekend for integral elements like Carr and De Jongh would only be beneficial for their freshness and good health for the semis and perhaps onward to the showpiece.

The Currie Cup as presently constituted has no off weekends at all, and comes soon after many players have already sweated blood for their franchise causes in a gruelling Super Rugby campaign.

Saturday’s closing, night-time game sees the Bulls, who have begun to turn their season around at a fitting time, attempt to earn a third straight win when Griquas visit Loftus – they, too, may already be assured of fourth before it starts if the Cheetahs and Pumas have both lost their fixtures.

There must be a good chance, when you examine the whole last-round roster, that the current order of the top four (WP, then Lions, Sharks and Bulls) will stay exactly the same after it.

It would mean Province hosting the Bulls in one semi, and the Lions tackling the Sharks in Johannesburg just a fortnight on from their latest clash, won 26-23 by the coastal side at Kings Park on Friday night in veteran flank Jacques Botes’s probable last game at the venue.

Smart money continues to point toward a WP-Lions final in Cape Town, although stranger things have happened than a more unexpected showpiece occurring ...

Next weekend’s Currie Cup programme (home teams first):

Friday: EP Kings v Pumas, 19:10. Saturday: Golden Lions v Free State Cheetahs, 15:00; Western Province v Sharks, 17:05; Blue Bulls v Griquas, 19:10.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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