Cape Town – The next two rounds should go a long way to determining which teams eventually land up in the most favourable positions for the knockout phase of the Currie Cup.
Completion of Saturday’s fixtures marked the midway point of league play in the 2015 competition, with the four major Test unions (in descending order, the Golden Lions, Blue Bulls, Western Province and Sharks) not too unexpectedly hogging the top four “semi-final” berths as things stand.
Highveld rivals the Lions and Bulls can finally be separated in points terms at the top, as the former managed another full house against the EP Kings on Saturday – leaving them on the maximum possible 25 points after five fixtures -- whereas the Bulls finally dropped a point by not managing four tries in the damp, chilly 24-17 triumph over the Cheetahs on Friday night.
In a shrewd bit of scheduling, this quartet will be in action solely against each other over the next fortnight, and with all four important matches occurring before the major public distraction of the Springboks opening their World Cup account against Japan at Brighton on September 19.
Next weekend sees an appetising, top-of-table derby at Loftus (Saturday, 19:00) when the Bulls entertain the Lions, so one of the two – or both if it happens to be drawn –are going to surrender their 100 percent win record.
Just ahead of it, coastal rivals the Sharks and WP go head-to-head at Kings Park (17:05).
The cream-of-the-crop theme continues a week later, when there is a return clash between old rivals Province and the Bulls on the Friday night – for defending champions WP it is an opportunity to try to avenge that rare 47-29 hiding at Loftus a few weeks ago.
Then on the Saturday (at 14:30, just avoiding a clash with the 17:45 Bok RWC kick-off) the Lions entertain the Sharks in Johannesburg.
Right now, the Lions and Bulls look well on track to retain the top two berths for home semi-finals further down the line, as both are already two wins superior to both Province and the Sharks.
The winner of the cross-Hennops match on Saturday will take a sizeable step toward teeing up rights to a possible home final, even if there is still good time for things to change thereafter.
In the Lions’ favour, as they aim to go one better than being losing finalists in 2014, is that three of their five remaining round-robin matches are at home, whereas the Bulls have only two Loftus fixtures left, including the key derby.
The fourth-placed Sharks, meanwhile, who so narrowly prevented the Pumas from recording a surprise double over them as they just prevailed 27-26 in Durban, are still under considerable pressure from the Cheetahs, only two log points short of them in fifth.
Bearing in mind that the Free Staters’ run-in looks slightly better – three home tussles to the Sharks’ two – Gary Gold’s charges still have plenty of work to do just to ensure presence in the semis.
It may all come down to the very last ordinary-season fixture on October 10, when they play each other at Free State Stadium ...
Remaining matches for the current top four teams:
Golden Lions (25 points): Blue Bulls (a), Sharks (h), Cheetahs (a), WP (h), Griquas (h).
Blue Bulls (24 points): Golden Lions (h), WP (a), Sharks (a), EP Kings (h), Pumas (a).
Western Province (15 points): Sharks (a), Blue Bulls (h), Pumas (h), Lions (a), EP Kings (h).
Sharks (13 points): WP (h), Lions (a), Blue Bulls (h), Griquas (a), Cheetahs (a).
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