The Absa Currie Cup race remains wide open and any of six sides can still win the title. And, what’s more, with the exception of sixth-placed Griquas, the play-offs are very much in their own hands.
The Free State Cheetahs, with a relatively easy run-in in their last four matches, now have an excellent chance of securing a home semi-final after their 20-14 win over the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Griquas, struggling with injuries and without the finances and, therefore, the depth of the bigger unions, are hanging in by the skin of their teeth after their 40-29 loss to the Lions at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday, while their victors on Saturday probably have the toughest task of the top five to make the play-offs.
The Sharks are currently eight points ahead of second-placed Western Province, who got back on the winning trail on Saturday with a 59-17 thumping of the Platinum Leopards. The road ahead is, however, not an easy one and they have the little matter of overcoming the Free State Cheetahs in Durban this coming weekend and then the Lions in Johannesburg to ensure the top log position and a possible home final.
On the face of Friday night’s last 60 minutes against the Pumas in Witbank, in which time the Sharks scored only three points in their 30-14 win, their next two matches should not be regarded as certain wins.
The Lions were rather average for most of their match against Griquas.
“We were sloppy,” conceded coach John Mitchell afterwards. He was happy with the scrum, but critical of the lack of patience and the errors made on attack – mostly brought about by poor decision-making and some average handling.
But, as he said, “we won and we didn’t play well.” And that is perhaps the measure of a team which has now won five on the trot and have become serious contenders for a play-off berth.
The Lions started running without plan or structure from the word go, and the errors kept Griquas – who also scored four tries – in the early hunt.
More structure and vision than shown by the Lions in this match is necessary for the Currie Cup run-in.
The Lions square up to a hurt Blue Bulls side in Pretoria this weekend in a match which could have a major bearing on both sides’ play-off aspirations.
The Lions then play the Sharks at home before travelling to Bloemfontein for the clash against the Free State Cheetahs and end off against the Pumas in Johannesburg.
On Saturday, the Blue Bulls again played for only part of their match against the Free State Cheetahs which produced some of the best that Currie Cup rugby has to offer.
It was tough, uncompromisingly hard and the defence on both sides was outstanding.
The highlight was undoubtedly the second-half Cheetahs try by Hendro Scholtz which came following 32 phases of patience and support and after outstanding Blue Bulls defence which simply had to wilt.
The match ended with the Blue Bulls, in control for the last 15 minutes or so, on attack, but there can be little doubt that the better side had won this battle. It was Free State’s second win over the Blue Bulls in this season’s competition.
Western Province’s win over the Platinum Leopards came on the back of a golden period in the first half with the 26-10 half-time score putting paid to the notion that this would be a contest.
Nine tries indicate it was a better outing for WP after three consecutive defeats, but questions still remain despite the selection of Lionel Cronje at flyhalf and some Springbok stars in the backline.
This performance simply wasn’t good enough to beat the top guns.
Remaining Premier Division matches:
Sharks to play:
Free State (home)
Western Province (away).
WP to play:
Griquas (at home)
Blue Bulls (away)
Sharks (at home).
Free State Cheetahs to play:
Lions to play:
Blue Bulls (away)
Sharks (at home)
Free State (away)
Pumas (at home).
Blue Bulls to play:
WP ( home)
Griquas to play:
Blue Bulls (home).
Pumas to play:
Free State (away)
Leopards to play:
Blue Bulls (home)
Free State (home).