Heading into the final two rounds of the Currie Cup’s regular season, there is plenty to play for. ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE looks at the permutations.
VODACOM BULLS – 35 points.
The Bulls currently sit at the top of the table with 35 points and a four point lead over Western Province in second place. The men in blue may have already done enough to qualify for the knockouts but crucially will be aiming to finish at the top of the log and ensure a home semi-final.
To this end, Bulls fans will be relieved that their crunch game against the Lions was rearranged for 6 January and not cancelled. If the Bulls can get six points out of their next two games against the Lions and Pumas, they will not be caught. They’ll be aiming for the full five points against the Pumas in the final round and that means even a losing bonus-point against the Lions might be enough.
WESTERN PROVINCE – 31 points.
WP have made a late charge in the competition and with the Sharks coming unstuck in the last two matches, have moved into second place on 31 points. They’ll now be looking to catch the Bulls who are only four points ahead. In order to do so they’ll need to overcome both the Cheetahs this week and the Sharks next week (picking up a bonus-point somewhere) and hope that the Bulls lose at least one of their remaining two games (and pick up no bonus-points). A tall order.
If WP finish level with the Bulls it is unlikely that they will have a better points difference and so in order to top the table they must have more points outright. If they finish in second place they will still play their semi-final at home, but such is the tightness of the competition that even the fifth-placed Cheetahs are only five points adrift of Province. That makes this weekend’s clash in Bloemfontein crucial. Two losses to finish their season and Province could miss out on the playoffs altogether.
LIONS – 29 points.
The Lions currently sit in third place and are unlikely to be able to catch the Bulls at the top of the log (to do so would require the Bulls to lose to them and the Pumas). They are more likely aiming to leapfrog Province into second place and in doing so secure themselves a semi-final in Johannesburg.
They’ll be facing an uphill battle given they have only a four day turnaround between this weekend’s game against the Pumas and their final round fixture against the table-topping Bulls. With Province in their sights and the Sharks hot on their heels the Lions have the benefit of knowing that the final round clash between these two sides means that it’s impossible for both the coastal teams to win their last two games. Beating the Pumas – with a bonus-point if possible – will therefore be a non-negotiable in the Lions’ quest.
SHARKS – 28 points.
The wheels have slightly come off for the Sharks in the last two weeks after they suffered heavy defeats against the Lions and Cheetahs. At one point they were in with a good chance of topping the log but now they’re languishing in fourth position and fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Durbanites’ next two games against the Griquas and Province are both an opportunity and a pitfall. A big win against the former this week is expected to get their campaign back on track and should the Cheetahs lose their game against Province this weekend the Sharks will feel secure of making the playoffs.
If they then go on to beat Province in the final round (depending on what happens with the Lions) they may even sneak into second place and play the semi-final in Durban. A loss in either of their final games however, and the Cheetahs may be in with a sniff of pipping them to the playoffs.
CHEETAHS – 26 points.
Two points behind the Sharks, the Cheetahs currently find themselves outside of the playoff spots and will have two weeks to rectify this. One feels that their match this week in Bloemfontein against Western Province will either make or break their season. Lose and for all money they are out of the competition, win and they will feel that their destiny is in their own hands when they head to Kimberley for the final round against the Griquas.
Last week the Cheetahs produced a scintillating performance to totally outplay the Sharks. After their unceremonious (and unfair) dumping from the Pro16, Cheetahs fans will be hoping for their team to give another one of the ‘Big Four’ a bloody nose. Reaching the playoffs ahead of one of the teams replacing them in next year’s European competition will be a symbolic victory for the men from Bloem.
PUMAS & GRIQUAS
Sorry guys and girls, but short of a late Christmas miracle – this won’t be your year! Having said that, there is still plenty of opportunity to play kingmakers. An upset by either of these sides is likely to fundamentally change the log composition. The Pumas may look to target the Lions this weekend at home and the Griquas could be in with a chance of upsetting the Cheetahs in the final round.