Cape Town - Two big derbies, in Pretoria and Cape Town, will spice up the Currie Cup this weekend as the competition shifts into a new gear when the Premier and First Division tournaments pass the halfway mark and the battle for semi-final spots intensifies.
Only four pool rounds remain in the Premier Division following this weekend’s matches, and two in the First Division, with the playoffs set to be played early next month.
On Wednesday afternoon Griquas needed a strong second half performance to beat the EP Kings by 47-24 in their postponed match in the Premier Division of the Currie Cup.
In the two main Premier Division match-ups this weekend, the Blue Bulls will meet the Golden Lions in Pretoria on Friday (19:00) and Western Province will host the Sharks in Cape Town on Saturday (17:10).
Boland and the Pumas will kick off the weekend’s Premier Division action in Wellington on Friday (15:00), where the Lowvelders will be hunting their first victory of the season, while Boland will look to register their second win.
The last match between these sides, in the Currie Cup Qualifiers, was a thrilling affair with the Pumas edging Boland 12-10, but the men from Nelspruit dominated three of their four matches prior to that in the Currie Cup First Division in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
The Blue Bulls will have their work cut out for them as they aim for only their second victory in six outings against the defending champions, the Golden Lions, when the teams meet at Loftus Versfeld.
Such has been the Johannesburg’s team dominance in the Gauteng derby since 2013, they scored more than 35 points in five of their last six matches. The last time the Blue Bulls beat their rivals was in 2014 at Loftus Versfeld - a feat they are hoping to repeat this week.
Olympic bronze medallist Kwagga Smith will run out for the visitors this week, while the Blue Bulls have selected a looseforward trio consisting of three former Junior Springbok captains in Hanro Liebenberg, Ruan Steenkamp and Arno Botha.
In Bloemfontein, the Free State Cheetahs will attempt to register their fourth successive victory in the tournament on Saturday when they face the EP Kings. The Free Staters have won all their home games against the Port Elizabeth side since the 1997 season, and they won the Currie Cup Qualifier in Port Elizabeth in May.
The EP Kings, however, have had fair success against the men from Bloemfontein in the Eastern Cape, where they won three of their four matches in the Currie Cup Premier Division.
In the final match of the weekend, the Sharks will be aiming to remain unbeaten this season when they meet Western Province in Cape Town, while the hosts will target back-to-back victories after registering their first victory of the season last week against the EP Kings.
Interestingly, the Sharks have won only two of the last six Premier Division matches between the sides, and both these victories were in Cape Town. The Durbanites have an impressive track record in Cape Town which has seen them suffer only one defeat in their last five matches in the Mother City dating back to 2012.
Currie Cup First Division
In East London, Border will be aiming for their first victory against the Griffons since 2011 when the sides meet on Friday (19:00). The visitors will target the match to return to winning ways after suffering their first defeat of the season last week against the Leopards.
In the last five seasons, Border have only challenged the Griffons twice, losing by five and six points respectively.
The hosts will be confident though, following last weekend’s 61-7 victory against the Welwitschias. They will also draw inspiration from the fact that they have leaked five tries in their first two matches compared to the Down Touch Griffons’ 13 in three matches.
The Valke, meanwhile, will have their sights set on their first win against the Leopards since 2014 at the Barnard Stadium in Kempton Park on Saturday (15:00).
These two teams played in the Currie Cup First Division semi-finals in the last two seasons, with the Leopards winning last season, while the Valke came out tops in 2014.
The Leopards, however, have had the upper hand in their four matches since then, but their last victory was a hard-fought 26-24 win in the Currie Cup Qualifiers.