Johannesburg – Western Province and the Sharks will start as favourites in their respective Currie Cup semi-final clashes this weekend.
There can be no doubt the two best teams in this year’s competition finished first and second in the standings following their 10 matches.
Allister Coetzee’s Province went unbeaten through the pool stages, with only two draws – against the Bulls and Lions – preventing them from making it 10 out of 10, while the Sharks won seven matches.
The two coastal sides dominated the competition and were, by far, the most consistent performers.
Western Province will host the fourth-placed Lions at Newlands, while the second-placed Sharks will entertain the Cheetahs, both to be played on Saturday. Naka Drotske’s side finished higher than the Lions on the points table due to their better points difference in the matches contested between them. They both finished on 26 log points, but the Cheetahs won both their matches against the Lions.
Coetzee’s Western Province maintained their unbeaten record with a strong showing in the wet in Durban, with Demetri Catrakilis playing a pivotal role with the boot and he’ll again be a key figure against the Lions this weekend. The Sharks, though, despite the defeat, will be confident ahead of hosting the Cheetahs, especially now that they can call on all their Springboks.
The availability of the national players has spiced up the competition at the business end, with all four finalists set to be a full-strength this weekend. The Cheetahs, who downed the Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday, have already shown what kind of impact experienced Test players can make and in Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen they have two hugely influential men up front.
The Cheetahs may have had an up-and-down season, but as any coach will tell you now, the last 10 weeks will mean absolutely zilch on Saturday. It’s knockout rugby from here on in and even though the Sharks will be favourites on home soil, no-one will write off the Cheetahs.
Johan Ackermann’s Lions though face a far sterner test in Cape Town. Western Province are not only tough to beat, or score tries against, but they’ll probably be a Bok-laden outfit by this weekend with Jean de Villiers likely to start and so, too, Schalk Burger, who’s made steady progress since returning from injury. It’s a star-studded side, with Boks in all positions and the Lions can really only boast one national player – Franco van der Merwe.
Also of concern to the Lions will again be the way they started against Griquas on Saturday. They trailed 16-3 after 20 minutes – not the first time they’ve been asked to play catch-up this year – and while they went on to win the game, Ackermann knows his side can ill-afford to be so slow out of the blocks in Cape Town.
The Bulls, with three wins, and Griquas, with just one victory, had seasons to forget. The men from Kimberley, though, aren’t quite done for the year as they’ll now play a promotion-relegation match, home and away, against the Pumas for a place in next year’s Premier Division. The first match is on Friday in Kimberley, with the return fixture next Friday in Nelspruit.