The Armchair Critic
It's the final week in the first round of the Currie Cup and the log is starting to take shape. The Sharks top the table, having only suffered one surprising loss to Griquas in the opening weekend. Since then the Durbanites have gotten better and better and are beginning to look like real title contenders.
Their biggest test comes this weekend when they travel to Newlands to face an unbeaten Western Province who've had a somewhat indifferent season thus far. The Champions lie third on the log, having only won two and drawn two games.
Sharks fly-half Fred Zeilinga's been a revelation; performing brilliantly against the Cheetahs and the Bulls in the past two weeks. The Sharks have opted to start with Butch James for the WP encounter though - I would've preferred Zeilinga, but even without him the Sharks are still quality. Their pack is a bit light-weight, but in terms of Currie Cup experience they've been around long enough with a number of Springboks in their set up.
Western Province have had mixed fortunes and with each passing week, they look more and more likely to relinquish their Currie Cup title. If rugby was a 40 minute game, Province would be champions every year. Against the Bulls and the Lions, they threw away good leads to end up drawing games they REALLY should've won. Captain Deon Fourie has actually admitted that their poor second half showing is playing on their minds … whether that's a good or bad thing we'll have to wait and see.
The Sharks are likely to stick to their kicking game plan, even though WP possess two of the best counter attacking players in the form of Cheslin Kolbe and Gio Aplon who are always a constant threat with space in front of them. Sharks coach Brad Mcleod-Henderson is well aware of that, saying "They have a fantastic back three, so I think it would be a bit foolish to kick down their throats". Province coach Allister Coetzee thinks otherwise though; predicting that the Sharks will play "a bit of tennis", hoping Province run at them and get caught out and turned over.
Again, only time will tell which coach ate the right fortune cookie.
So the Sharks have gotten better and WP are looking average … I predict a tight game in favour of the Sharks (19 - 15), unless Province's X-factor players like Kolbe and Aplon can turn on the magic.
In Kimberley, Griquas host the Lions in what's a really difficult game to call. The Lions should be confident though following last week's comeback to steal a deserving draw against Western Province. The week before they smashed the Bulls at Loftus, showing just how lethal they are on attack. Playing on the hard surface in Kimberley though is another story, as many teams have discovered in the past. But, I'll stick to my assertion that the Lions are the best attacking side in the competition and I believe they'll come away with maximum points.
Prediction: Griquas 14 - 35 Lions
There's no way anyone can back the Bulls to win after really poor performances in the last few weeks, and who can forget the thumping handed to them by the Lions a fortnight ago? The Bulls have looked dire so far in the Currie Cup, with only one win and of course the draw against WP in the opening weekend. The Bulls were in pretty much the same position this time last year under Pine Pienaar's leadership, so the question has to be asked - how long will he remain in the hot seat? The Cheetahs travel to Pretoria as favourites - they're second on the log, facing a wounded and dejected Bulls side rooted to the foot of the table.
There's a chance the Bulls could still turn their season around, but I doubt it's going to start this week.
Prediction: Bulls 15 - 21 Cheetahs