Cape Town - The Blue Bulls received an unexpected boost with the inclusion of Springbok and Bulls flyhalf, Handre Pollard, in their team to play the Valke, in one of six eagerly awaited clashes in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge this weekend.
The tournament again promises to dish up some remarkable rugby memories and highlights in round seven, with a lot of eyes on the fitness of Pollard, as he makes a comeback following an ankle injury.
A lot of eyes will also be on the logs of the three sections, as even after six weeks of top class action in the tournament, results in SA Rugby’s latest provincial competition are still hard to predict - and it will be the case again this weekend, with a number of crucial fixtures to be played.
Only Western Province have yet to taste defeat this season, but the other five fixtures have an air of unpredictability about it as teams are playing for survival and to keep their playoff hopes alive with the business end of this exciting tournament drawing nearer.
The Capetonians, log leaders in the South Section, will face a desperate Cavaliers team in Strand. However, WP seems too strong for the visitors, but Boland will feel they have a chance to cause an upset, especially as they are improving all the time.
WP fullback Craig Barry is enjoying a stellar season and will be keen to bag some silverware after losing out on the Varsity Cup earlier this year. The 25-year old captained Maties in the Varsity Cup but they lost to Tuks in the final.
His fine form was rewarded when he was named in the tournament Dream Team afterwards, but instead of resting on his laurels, Barry is taking his opportunities with WP. His attacks from the back has helped the side scoring heaps of tries. The former Paul Roos Gymnasium scholar himself has bagged five tries already and Barry, who represented the Junior Springboks in 2011, will be looking for more this weekend.
The second play-off spot in the South Section has not been settled, but the Border Bulldogs seem to be the betting man’s choice.
They do face a desperate SWD Eagles side in George though and after their improved performance last weekend against Eastern Province, the men from the Southern Cape will fancy their chances at home against the travelling East Londoners. The Eagles are the only winless side, but if they can stop leaking penalties and yellow cards, they can secure their first win of the tournament.
In the North Section, three teams have emerged strongest, but only two of the Blue Bulls, Golden Lions and Pumas will make it into the play-offs. The Pumas have a bye this weekend and both the Golden Lions and Blue Bulls face tricky away games.
The team from Johannesburg will travel to Namibia where the Welwitschias tasted victory in their last appearance at home and the Pretoria side have a short, but potentially dangerous trip to Kempton Park, to face the unpredictable Valke.
The Blue Bulls will be boosted by the presence of Pollard, no doubt. The two leading sides in the North should earn the needed points, but do not dare on their laurels, despite their wins over the same opponents at home, earlier in the tournament.
The Central Section has become a war zone. There will be a top of the table clash between Griquas and Free State XV in Kimberley, with the winner probably cementing a top two spot, but the other match, in Potchefstroom between the Leopards and Sharks XV could seriously dent the play-off chances of the losing side.
There has been little to choose between the top four contenders, but while Griquas have a game in hand, the North West outfit will have to snap their three game losing streak in order to sustain their ambitions of becoming the first ever winner of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.
The fixtures and match officials for the weekend's matches are:
Friday, June 9:
Valke v Blue Bulls
Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Griquas v Free State XV
Tafel Lager Park, Kimberley
Referee: Stuart Berry
TV: SS1, SS Select, CSN
SWD Eagles v Border Bulldogs
Outeniqua Park, George
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Saturday 10 June:
Welwitschias v Golden Lions XV
Hage Geingob Rugby Stadium, Windhoek
Referee: Pro Legoete
Leopards v Sharks XV
Olen Park, Potchefstroom
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Western Province v Boland Cavaliers
Charles Morkel Stadium, Strand
Referee: Quinton Immelman