Loftus the nexus of all

The final game of this year’s Absa Currie Cup dictates the shape of the next round, with five teams vying for a spot in the playoffs.

A victory for the champs will see them further consolidate their lead at the top, while a win by more than seven points will clear the way for the Lions to claim fourth spot on the log and eliminate the Vodacom Blue Bulls. The Bulls can avoid this by winning at home, and an extra point will take them to pole position.

The three other matches are expected to be won comfortably by the bigger unions of Vodacom Western Province, the Sharks and the Lions. However, the pressure is most definitely on these teams with one loss relegating any one of them to the sideline for the remainder of the tournament.

Keo.co.za takes a closer look at the Loftus classic that has the final say in one of the closest finishes to a Currie Cup competition in history.

SET-PIECE SIDESTEP

The Cheetahs will still be smarting from the intense physical battle against the Sharks last week, and could be easy prey for the Bulls in the tight exchanges. The Bulls have conversely grown with each game, and the injection of talent due to the timely return of their Springboks will have increased their chances of winning this game significantly.

There is a suggestion that Rassie Erasmus is keen for his men to avoid the rough stuff in his selection of a limited number of lineout jumpers. Whilst normally focusing on the lineout or scrum as a platform from which to attack, the selection of two shorter fetchers in the Cheetahs team suggests an alternate approach. Another fierce battle in the tight could do them more harm than good ahead of the playoffs as well, and despite their position on the log they have had a nightmare run of injuries.

FETCHING FRENZY

Ryno van der Merwe and Kabamba Floors will be instrumental in securing possession for the Cheetahs. The Bulls continuity at the breakdown and off the line-out is an aspect that the pair will try to eradicate and disrupt by getting the tackle early and either pilfering the ball or slowing it down. Floors speed will again be a factor here, and although he will concede a number of kilos to the other Bulls forwards, his intensity has shown him to be a hard player to match. If Floors and Van der Merwe play poorly, and the Bulls produce another clinical effort in the tight and get their rolling maul going early on, they could decimate the Cheetahs pack.

DE WAAL VS HOUGAARD

Hougaard may only be 23, but he possesses all the big match experience that winning three Currie Cups instills. However, his form has been erratic this season. At the other end of the spectrum, Willem de Waal is currently the top points scorer in the competition and has also excelled in the tactical aspects of the game. The Free State flyhalf will once again be instrumental in leading his team to victory.

The Cheetahs also hold the slight edge in the backline, boasting some skillful inside backs and flyers on the outside. Hendrik Meyer is only slightly outweighed by Dries Scholtz, but has exhibited far more creativity at No 12 this season. Bevin Fortuin is another danger man and his movements should be tracked carefully by the Bulls defence. The battle for territory through an inevitable kicking duel between Fortuin and Johan Roets will also play its part, as both possess a phenomenal kicking game.

RECENT RESULTS AT LOFTUS VERSFELD

2005: CHEETAHS WON 29-25 (final)
2005: BULLS WON 26-16
2004: BULLS WON 42-33 (final)
2004: BULLS WON 31-30
2003: BULLS WON 36-19

Kickoff on Saturday at 17:00.

PUMAS VS LIONS

The Lions need five points, and unfortunately it looks as if the Pumas are going to finish the season without a win. The Lions have grown stronger with each game, notching up seven wins in a row and it seems a shame that they face the prospect of an early exit. The desperation will show as they throw everything at the lowest ranked side, and Andre Pretorius’ will be key in carving up the home team’s defence.

Kickoff tonight at 19:10.

WESTERN PROVINCE VS GRIQUAS

Griquas have acquitted themselves admirably this season, but will simply be out gunned by Province this Saturday. Despite their recent run of injuries, the Cape Town side possesses too much firepower in the backline for the Griquas defence to handle, and unless the game becomes grossly unstructured, the five points will be there for the taking. Some of the WP players will be under pressure to perform, Naas Olivier in particular being one who needs raise his game ahead of the semi-finals.

Kickoff on Saturday at 15:00.

SHARKS VS VALKE

The men from Durban should win this one comfortably and obtain the five-points. The Sharks outclass the minnows from Brakpan in every facet of the game, boasting stronger, more efficient forwards and a potent backline. The Valke will rely heavily on the boot of Louis Strydom to ensure they play the game in the home side’s half, but this may be foolish when considering that great counterattacking players like JP Pietersen will be waiting on such a ploy. The reality is that the bigger union will prevail and take significant momentum into the playoffs.

Kickoff on Saturday at 17:00.