The Vodacom Cup reaches a critical point this weekend for those teams on the fringes of qualifying for the final, with defeat almost sure to signal the end of their trophy ambitions. Michael Vlismas reports.
The Leopards, Pumas, Lions and Vodacom Western Province â€“ all outside the top four â€“ fall into this category and would be hard pressed to make the final on May 20 if they were to hit a hurdle this weekend. All these sides are eight points or more behind the log-leading Wildebeest and will know that victory is non-negotiable, starting from this round.
Griquas and the Pumas kick-off the action on Friday night in Kimberley, with the defending champions already out of the race to make the final while the Pumas will be hunting a crucial away win.
After four consecutive losses, the Pumas will be buoyed by victory last week over the Mighty Elephants and will once again pin their hopes on prolific goalkicker Casper Steyn.
The Wildebeest should maintain their position at the top of the log when they travel to the lowly Border Bulldogs in East London on Friday night.
The Blue Bulls are currently third on the log and will be eyeing five points in George when they take on the bottom-placed Eagles on Friday night.
Springbok flyhalf Jaco van der Westhuyzen will be among the Blue Bulls reserves and, if given an opportunity, is sure to make a considerable impact for a side he joins from NEC in Japan.
The Blue Bulls are just three points behind the Wildebeest on the log and victory for Ashley Evertâ€™s men would certainly pile the pressure on the log leader, with the Falcons enjoying a bye this weekend after winning six of their eight games.
On Saturday, the Boland Cavaliers will be looking for their fifth win in a row when they host the Lions in Wellington. Fullback Justin Peachâ€™s 83 points this season has helped put the wine farmers in contention, and a finals berth is still a very realistic goal.
The Leopards and Western Province meet in Vryburg on Saturday. This is the third and final community match this season, aimed at exposing a wider audience to the game. The build-up to this match will also include several coaching clinics as a means of empowering local coaches in the area.
The Leopards need to get back on track after losing their first game in six last week to the Cavaliers, while Western Province will be fresh and ready to continue their resurgence after a bye in week eight.
In Saturdayâ€™s other game, the Griffons and the Vodacom Cheetahs meet in a Central Derby at Welkomâ€™s North West Stadium.
The Cheetahs are due a win, while the Griffons will still give themselves an outside chance of making the final if they beat the men from Bloemfontein.