Crunch weekend in Vodacom Cup

Round five of the Vodacom Cup represents a watershed period, with a number of intriguing fixtures sure to swing the balance of the competition. Michael Vlismas reports.

As the competition nears the halfway mark, defeat for some teams will signal the end to their trophy ambitions, while for others victory would put their campaigns back on track, or position them nicely among the competition’s front-runners. One clear example of this is the fixture in Brakpan on Friday night between log leaders the Falcons and the struggling Vodacom Western Province.

Victory for the former would be the continuation of an unbelievable run of five games unbeaten, while for the latter defeat could spell the end of coach Stanley Raubenheimer’s reign and perhaps end his team’s chances of realistically competing for the cup this year.

A fourth loss in five would leave Province with a mountain to climb heading into the second phase of the Vodacom Cup. Another game of similar nature is that between the Pumas and the Vodacom Free State Cheetahs. The Pumas have won three of their four games this year, and will be superbly placed if they add a fourth on Friday night in Witbank.

The Cheetahs, however, can ill-afford defeat, having lost two and drawn one of their fixtures thus far. Griquas and the Lions had an indifferent first month of the season. The Kimberley men may be mid-table but they have only won once from their four games, while the Johannesburgers also just have the solitary victory from three games played. Griquas welcome a resurgent Wildebeest to Absa Park on Saturday, the visitors having won all three of their opening games.

The Lions struggled in Witbank and Brakpan in the last fortnight, and another tricky outing awaits them on Friday night in East London when they play a desperate Border Bulldogs. The Bulldogs got their first win from three last week, a 17-7 victory over the Mighty Elephants.

The Elephants travel to the North West Stadium on Saturday to play an in-form Griffons, having lost three from four thus far. The Griffons find themselves in the rarefied atmosphere of second place on the log, together with the Vodacom Blue Bulls and the Wildebeest.

Ashley Evert’s Bulls side make the trip to Potchefstroom on Friday night to play the mid-table Leopards. “I’ve picked a strong pack for the game because that is the Leopards’ big strength,” the Bulls coach explained. “I’m utilising Adrian Fondse at number eight (normally lock) just for that reason. We need to nullify their pack on Friday,” he added. The fit Richard Bands makes his 50th provincial appearance when he runs out at Olen Park, with 49 of those having been for the Bulls and one for Stellaland in 1994 on his debut.

In the final fixture of the weekend, the Boland Cavaliers (one win from three) host the winless Eagles at the Boland Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.