• ‘Anything can happen’

    SARugbymag.co.za's panel of experts on where Saturday's Currie Cup semi-finals will be won and lost, and who they expect to reach the final.

    NAAS BOTHA (former Bok flyhalf and SuperSport pundit)

    Golden Lions vs Sharks
    ‘It's tough to determine a winner. The Lions have been very good this year, and will be favorites going into this clash. However, the Sharks will have Cobus Reinach, and he can make a difference at scrumhalf with his pace and passing. There is an opportunity for more non-Springboks to play at the highest level of domestic rugby, and it will be fascinating to see how they react within a high-pressure environment.'

    Western Province vs Blue Bulls
    ‘This game is also tough to predict. Province and the Lions have played the best rugby in this year's Currie Cup, but anything can happen in the knockout stage. The Bulls can easily cause an upset, because they have the players to do it, and there are a great deal of factors that can affect the outcome of the match. For example, if one of the sides pick up a couple of yellow cards, a large point deficit can quickly occur, as we have already seen this year. That is very tough to come back from, especially in a semi-final. The Bulls will also be galvanised by Handré Pollard's return to the starting XV. But semi-finals are all about the collective, and are often tight affairs that depend on the tight-five battle and team structures. Aspects such as experience, and leadership come to the fore in these games, and this is what makes this year’s Currie Cup semi-finals so exciting, especially considering the teams won’t have the experience of their Boks to fall back on.'

    CHRIS ROSSOUW (Former WP flyhalf and Maties coach)

    Golden Lions vs Sharks
    ‘I think the Lions will be too good for the Sharks. They’ve been a very consistent side this year in terms of their team selection, and the return of Warren Whiteley is a big factor for them. This Lions side has largely been together through Super Rugby and the Currie Cup, which will be key considering the pressure a Currie Cup semi-final brings. Cobus Reinach will help bolster the Sharks, but I feel the Lions will collectively be too strong for a less experienced Sharks side.’

    Western Province vs Blue Bulls
    ‘It will be a close encounter, but I think the Newlands crowd will see Western Province through. The hookers and locks are crucial for both teams, as in knockout encounters the set piece will play even more of a role. The inside backs will be crucial too – Demetri Catrakilis and Nic Groom will need to control the game well for Province in order to utilise the space out wide.’

    JIMMY STONEHOUSE (Pumas coach)

    Golden Lions vs Sharks
    'The Lions will be too strong for the Sharks. The Lions tight five, which includes the likes of Armand and Schalk van der Merwe, Ruan Dreyer and Martin Muller, have come into their own this season. It's because of them that the loose forwards are thriving. The Lions pack will outmuscle the Sharks, handing front-foot ball to that dangerous backline. They are playing a balanced style of rugby unmatched by any of the other semi-finalists, are high on confidence and will have the Ellis Park hordes behind them. The Sharks will be aided by Cobus Reinach, who now has international experience. He and Lwazi Mvovo must put up their hands as senior players and take the game to the Lions. If Tera Mtembu can bust his way forward with a few of those strong carries we've seen, the Sharks might be in with a chance. But I still think the Lions will have enough firepower to repel the Sharks. I'm not betting against a loose trio consisting of Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and Derick Minnie with Kwagga Smith as a replacement. The Lions will book their place in the final with a 27-21 win.'

    Western Province vs Blue Bulls
    'While Province are the most dangerous team in broken play, they are not as physical as the Bulls and that physicality will be too much for the Capetonians to handle. Cheslin Kolbe, Seabelo Senatla and Juan de Jongh – who is a special, special player – can decide the outcome of a match with a single moment of individual brilliance. But this is play-off rugby and the Bulls live for these matches – they sneak in through the back door unnoticed and play their best rugby in the knockout stage. I can't see Province containing Dean Greyling, Grant Hattingh, Paul Willemse and Handré Pollard. I'm going for an away win, 24-20 to the Bulls.' 

    WAYNE FYVIE (former Sharks flank)

    Golden Lions vs Sharks
    ‘Based on form, the Lions are the team to tip at this stage. I think we’re going to see the guys play an open and expansive game. There will be a lot of opportunities for both sides, it comes down to whoever utilises their opportunities more and convert those chances into points. It is risk versus reward and boy have the Lions taken a few risks this season. The Lions tight forwards will be instrumental in this match. They set the platform for the backs to play that expansive brand of rugby. If the Sharks can shut them down, neutralise them and get up in their faces at Ellis Park, the game is there for the taking. For the Sharks, I think Cobus Reinach must have a blinder. A confident Reinach will make a big difference. I reckon the Sharks will steal a three or four-point win.'

    Western vs Blue Bulls
    ‘Province are out and out favourites against the Bulls. But they should be very wary of the Bulls, who have a reputation of always gaining momentum and peaking at just the right time. Their contrasting styles will make for fascinating viewing at Newlands. Province play running rugby, while the Bulls like the physical approach, they like to batter the opposition into submission. Obviously Province will have some of their big names back, but individuality won’t cut it. Their biggest asset will be a full team effort. Where the Bulls play Handré Pollard will be another deciding factor. He has proven himself to be the best flyhalf in the country, so why change that by moving him to inside centre? If Pollard plays 10, I’m going to be controversial and say Bulls by seven. Also the “favourites” tag doesn’t sit well with Province and the added pressure on them will count in the Bulls favour.’

    THINUS DELPORT (former Bok fullback and Sky Sports pundit)

    Golden Lions vs Sharks
    ‘With the home-ground advantage and Warren Whiteley back to lead them, I’m backing the Lions. In them you have a team that’s playing extremely well at the moment. They are enjoying their rugby. Over here in the UK where the Currie Cup has a large following, we’ve been very impressed with the Lions set piece, especially the scrums. Their work at the breakdown is commendable, but that’s an area where the Sharks also pride themselves on. So when turnovers are affected, the side that exploits and unlocks the opposition defence the quickest will control the match. Both teams are disciplined, so they will rely heavily on their respective goal-kickers to translate any shot at goal into points. I quite like the look of Jaco Kriel and Tera Mtembu, who are excellent with ball in hand, but the Sharks front rowers will have to stop the rampaging Lions front row if they are to realise their hopes of reaching the final. It’s such a tough prediction to make, but I tip the Lions to pull through 24-12.'

    Western Province vs Blue Bulls
    ‘Province’s attacking supremacy and resolute defence should be enough to take them into the final. They have been consistently outstanding throughout the competition and the loss against the Sharks [last Saturday] will not have damaged the confidence they built in the previous rounds. And, it was anyway a B-team they fielded in that match. The Bulls had a poor start to the season and they will struggle at Newlands. If Province can stop the big Bulls runners, like Paul Willemse, Grant Hattingh and Jacques du Plessis, on or behind the gainline for the majority of the 80 minutes, they will effectively take the Bulls backline players out of the equation, at least on attack. Nizaam Carr and Juan de Jongh are the ones to watch in the Province team, while Handré Pollard will be key for the visitors. If he starts at 12, it will be interesting to see how he goes in that midfield channel next to Jacques-Louis Potgieter. This one will be closer than the first semi – 18-15 to Western Province.'

    Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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    Mariette Adams