Mariette Adams and Dylan Jack debate which of the four teams in the Currie Cup playoffs are favourites for the title.
Adams says Cheetahs:
With most of the focus directed at Griquas’ superb run to reach the semi-finals (a first since 1998) and the glaring failure of traditional powerhouses – the Vodacom Blue Bulls and Western Province – to even qualify, the Free State Cheetahs have been flying under the radar somewhat.
The Cheetahs finished level on points with Griquas, but beat them to top of the log on a greater points differential to host one of the semi-finals and possibly a final. And I believe that home-ground advantage will see them power to a first Currie Cup title since 2016 and a sixth overall.
Free State’s pack has been industrious so far this tournament. They’ve scrummed opponents into the ground and the loose forwards have excelled at the breakdown point and in open play.
#CurrieCup – HALFTIME:
Bulls 12-22 Cheetahs
It’s the men from Bloemfontein who go into the break the happier of the two teams. pic.twitter.com/agSNzE7fuX
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) July 19, 2019
But what stands out most about the Cheetahs is the perfect balance they’ve struck between attack and defence. For a team who is notorious for their risky – and at times downright irresponsible – attacking gameplan, the Cheetahs have upped their defensive work considerably in this year’s Currie Cup. They scored the most tries (34) and conceded the second fewest (21) behind the already eliminated Western Province.
With the likes of Benhard Janse van Rensburg, William Small-Smith and, surprisingly, Joseph Dweba raking in the tries and Tian Schoeman and Louis Fouche punishing the opposition with their accurate goal-kicking, it’s difficult to see anyone stopping this Cheetahs juggernaut.
A Currie Cup title will serve as a much-needed morale booster for the Cheetahs players who will head into the upcoming Pro14 season under a new leader in Hawies Fourie.
Jack says Lions:
A young Lions team could be set to lay their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2015.
While there is little to choose between the four candidates, with each team losing twice this season, the Lions have shown an attacking ambition which has pulled them through some tight contests and they claimed a number of memorable comeback wins this year.
The combination between fullback Tyrone Green, centre Wandisile Simelane and wing Stean Pienaar is extremely promising and something that can be built on in next year’s Super Rugby season.
While the Lions have tended to start slowly and fall behind early in games, they saved their best rugby for the final 20 minutes. The Lions are also the only team to beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this year, claiming a 24-22 win thanks to a Shaun Reynolds penalty.
New additions in Duncan Matthews and Jamba Ulengo, as well as the return to full fitness of Cyle Brink, should boost the Lions through the playoffs and help them claim the title.