CAPE TOWN: Despite the unpredictability of play-offs due to the pressures of knock-out matches, the Golden Lions XV will be starting favourites in the first SuperSport Rugby Challenge quarterfinal match of the weekend, when they face the Pumas at Ellis Park on Saturday (kick-off at 2pm).
The home ground advantage will be a factor and the Lions have shown a real desire for winning matches, having lost only once in eight starts. They have the best points differential by far in the competition, despite playing in the very competitive North Section, having scored 485 points and only conceding 208 for a points’ difference of 277.
To be fair to the Pumas though, they have been pretty productive on attack as well and combining that with a strong defence, conceded only 27 tries in eight matches. But the fact that the Golden Lions XV won both encounters between the sides this year (40-29 in KaNyamazane and 35-25 at Ellis Park) will make them slight favourites to make it three in a row.
The second clash on Saturday, which kicks off at 3pm, promises to be pretty entertaining as well. Griquas only lost their opening match of the season and are on a hot winning streak at the moment. They face the EP Kings, who are also getting into a good rhythm at the right time, in Kimberley.
The home side will have home advantage as an ally, but the men from Port Elizabeth are used to performing away from home, as they showed last weekend when they outplayed Boland in Bredasdorp to clinch second place in the South Section.
Sunday will see four teams battling it out at the Green Point Track, with another Rugby Festival taking the tournament to the doorstep of Cape Town’s rugby communities. After the traditional club match, where locals, SK Walmers host Belhar, the Blue Bulls and Sharks XV will do battle in what promises to be one of the matches of the tournament (kick-off at 12:45pm).
The Durbanites have the best defence in the tournament, only conceding 19 tries in eight matches and the challenge to the men from Pretoria will be how to break down that defence.
The Blue Bulls have scored 53 tries though, the second most in the tournament, so they will back their attack to secure the result. Six of those tries came from Boom Prinsloo, who has been a stand-out for the team since he joined them from Bloemfontein earlier this season.
The final match will be at 3:15pm between Western Province and Free State XV, who sneaked into the final play-off spot with the narrowest of margins.
The unbeaten home team will have to be on high alert though, as the team from Bloemfontein picked up enough steam after a slow start to make it into the final eight. They also have a sharp-shooter in the form of outside back, Marco Mason, who has contributed 79 points to his side’s tally.
WP have scored 46 tries at an average of just over seven per game, so attack will again be their main purpose and with an expected full house, could just provide the highlight of the weekend.
Leading points’ scorer
Shaun Reynolds (Golden Lions): 119
Leading try scorer
Craig Barry (Western Province) – 8
Most tries after regulation play
Xerox Golden Lions XV – 69
Least tries conceded after regulation play
Sharks XV – 19
African News Agency (ANA)