JON CARDINELLI says the loser of Saturday’s clash in Bloemfontein won’t qualify for the Currie Cup play-offs.
With two rounds to play, it looks as if the Sharks and Western Province will feature in the final four with the Blue Bulls likely to join them. What’s less certain is who will occupy fourth position: the pragmatic Cheetahs or the revamped Lions.
The points table suggests Griquas could sneak into the final four, as they’re expected to bag five points against the Pumas and their final fixture is at home. The return to Kimberley, however, will see them hosting a full-strength Bulls side, and although Griquas have done well to stay in the play-off hunt, they’re not exactly at the top of their game. They enjoyed a late comeback against WP last Saturday, but still conceded 48 points. Consistency isn’t their strong suit.
A loss to WP in Pretoria will mark the clash in Kimberley as a do-or-die match for the Bulls, but you’d have to back a side including Bok stalwarts Victor Matfield and Morne Steyn to rise above that pressure. WP have the benefit of a favourable points difference which means they could lose both their remaining matches without a consolatory bonus point and still progress to the play-offs. I can’t see this happening, however, as they’re bound to push both the Bulls and Sharks close if they don’t, as I suspect they will, win their remaining two games.
The Sharks are home and dry, and an expected win over the Leopards will secure them a home semi-final and possibly a home final. Nevertheless, the most recent result in Johannesburg will have given the Lions hope should they meet the Sharks in the play-offs.
For all the excitement around the Lions, it must be remembered that they’re yet to win a big game away from home. They lost to WP in Cape Town, the Sharks in Durban, and Bulls in Pretoria. It’s for this reason that I feel they have a mountain to climb in Bloemfontein this coming week. Saturday is their quarter-final; their final chance to make a statement.
The Cheetahs and Lions should pick up five log points apiece in the final round of competition. Naka Drotske’s charges travel to Potchefstroom to tackle the Leopards while the Lions host the Pumas in Joburg. You’d expect the two big unions to beat the minnows by a convincing margin at this stage of the season.
Those results will cancel each other out, and so there’s everything to play for in this Saturday’s game in Bloemfontein. A loss for either side will signify the end of a domestic campaign and indeed a blow to their Super Rugby preparations.