Cape Town – The Sharks finished fifth, one spot shy of the
semi-finals, in 2015 -- and there is an increased risk now that history will agonisingly
repeat itself in this year’s Currie Cup.
As the only inactive team during the penultimate round of
league fixtures this weekend, they will be quietly cursing the extent to which
the Golden Lions thrashed the pitiful EP Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
By winning 71-7 and by 11 tries to one against the
bottom-placed side, the Lions not only achieved their quest for a full five log
points, but the competition-proper’s most one-sided match thus far also saw the
visitors do their points differential column a power of good; they are now 145
The Sharks, who they entertain in the final round at
Emirates Airline Park on Friday evening, are three log points ahead with a less
impressive points differential of plus-111, so even a hard-earned Lions victory
without a bonus point, and the Sharks earning a losing one, would leave the
sides level-pegging on 26 points but Johan Ackermann’s charges stealing the
That said, a triumph by the team from Durban would almost
certainly elbow out the defending champions from the last four, and if the
Sharks were to do so in style with a “full house” of points in the Big Smoke
they would suddenly boast rights to a home semi, pushing the Blue Bulls (bye
next weekend) down to third and hosting them at Kings Park.
All of that is said, however, in the expectation that
Western Province, who revitalised their campaign with a priceless 52-31 victory
over Griquas in Kimberley on Friday, will secure a ticket to the semi-finals
themselves by beating the limited Boland Cavaliers at Newlands.
In the highly unlikely event that Province crash to their
neighbours, then both the Lions and Sharks could yet squeeze through the funnel
to the knockout phase anyway, even though the Highveld side do currently trail
WP by one point.
But a straight “quarter-final” shootout between the two for
one ticket still seems the far likelier scenario.
Griquas, meanwhile, are still mathematically alive in sixth
but you would be particularly brave to bet on them breaking into the semis from
here: not only would they need to beat the Cheetahs away in their final match,
taking them to either 24 or 25 points, but they would require that major WP
shock in Cape Town, plus the Sharks to beat the Lions on the road.
The unbeaten Free Staters are thoroughly deserved, already
confirmed table-toppers, giving them rights to both a home semi and the
showpiece itself in Bloemfontein if they can advance to it.
So there is always the possibility that they will rest
certain core, perhaps overworked personnel when they play Griquas on Saturday.
By then, though, it is quite likely there will be nothing of
any significance at stake in the clash, as Friday night’s trio of fixtures may
well have sealed the non-qualifying fate of the plucky troops from Kimberley.
A strong incentive for the Sharks to produce the goods in
Jo’burg on Friday will be awkward memories of last year’s corresponding
final-round heart-breaker, away to the Cheetahs: they led 34-20 as late as the
75th minute but then conceded two converted tries as the hosts
snatched a 34-34 draw – enough to see them hold onto fourth on the ladder with
the Sharks ending one position beneath them and their season over.
But this, I suspect, will turn out to be the 2016 semis
line-up: Cheetahs (1st) v Lions (4th), Blue Bulls (2nd)
v WP (3rd).
fixtures (home teams first):
Friday: Lions v Sharks, 17:00; EP Kings v Pumas, 18:00; WP v
Cavaliers, 19:10. Saturday: Cheetahs v Griquas, 14:00.
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