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
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
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
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
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)
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