The Currie Cup has reached its business end, with the semi-finals seeing the Sharks up against the Blue Bulls in Durban, and defending champions the Golden Lions locking horns with Western Province in Johannesburg.
The Durbanites finished top of table, so if they can beat the Bulls, who romped to 50-29 victory at Ellis Park, a home final beckons against either Province or the defending champions.
For the Sharks, if they want to win the Currie Cup, they are going to have to do it the hard way. Their 42-3 mauling of Griquas notwithstanding, their forwards need to stop the Bulls in their tracks to give their more versatile backline the opportunity to create holes in the Bulls defence.
The Bulls were impressive against a weakened Lions, however they would be concerned they conceded 29 points against a second-string-attack. Morne Steyn may look more comfortable in his old blue jersey after a tough international season, but the onus will be on him to keep the Bulls in the right part of the field. He is the player the Sharks will look to target, with the Bulls’ loss to the Crusaders in the Super 15 being an exhibit of what can happen if Steyn is taken out of the equation.
It’s an intriguing clash, but the Sharks should win it by five. Expect some very heavy collisions.
And the Lions? They received some criticism for fielding a weakened team against the old enemy across the Jukskei, but they will be rested for their clash against Province, who will field a team packed with Springboks.
Last season, the Lions had the benefit of none of their players wearing the Springbok jersey, and while that changed this year, they are still a more settled outfit than the Streep Trui. How Eben Etzebeth only played his first Currie Cup match on Saturday is a quirk of the professional era, but in him and Andries Bekker, the Lions will have their hands full containing the two giant locks.
Add that to the sub-plot of the Lions loaning WP a couple of their players (in the guise of the Stormers) for next season, it promises to be a quite the barn-burner, especially as Elton Jantjies seeks to show Heyneke Meyer that he is the man who should wear No10 on the tour of Europe for the Springboks.
Province showed against the Free State Cheetahs that they are not as one-dimensional as they used to be, so the question is can the Lions defend well enough to ensure WP’s more experienced and green-and-gold tinged backline doesn’t punish them on the scoreboard?
It will be a high-scoring game, which gut states the Lions will pip (though my red-and-white glasses are not helping).
Either way, the South African domestic season is boiling down to a satisfying conclusion, especially with the added intrigue of the promotion-relegation match between the EP Kings and Cheetahs (which the Cheetahs will win).