Currie Cup, Round 14 - teams and predictions
SATURDAY PREVIEW: There is only one place remaining in the Currie Cup semifinals.
The Sharks and Cheetahs have already secured home advantage for the semifinals.
On Friday the Pumas booked their place in the play-offs with a 27-17 win over Griquas in a repeat of the 2022 Final – making them the third team to confirm their place in the play-offs.
The Lions (who are in fourth place on 36 points after their 39-22 win over the Griffons in Welkom on Friday) can still be overtaken by the Bulls (36 points) and Western Province (32 points) in a mad dash for the final place.
(Standings after Friday’s games …)
The Cheetahs travel to Pretoria to face off against the Bulls in the early match on Saturday.
They currently trail the Sharks (48) by two points in the standings.
However, if the Free Staters lose at Loftus Versfeld and fail to obtain any bonus points, the KwaZulu-Natalians will head into their final league fixture against Western Province in Cape Town with the knowledge that they have already secured a top-place finish.
The fifth-placed Bulls, who have won their past four matches, know that a simple win against the Cheetahs or even just a losing bonus point will be enough.
A loss without any bonus points would knock them out of the play-off race.
“We can win by one point and we are in the play-offs,” White told @rugby365com, when asked about the goals for the final round of league action.
The Bulls boss pointed out that his team has been in ‘knock-out mode’ for the last six weeks – having won just one of their first six matches and none in the first four.
“Tomorrow [Saturday] is no different,” White said Friday, adding: “It is make-or-break.
“We win, we are in the play-offs, If we lose we are out. It’s a ‘must-win’ game – as has been for us since weeks seven or eight.”
Despite arriving in Pretoria without star playmaker Ruan Pienaar, who stayed behind in Bloemfontein due to family bereavement, White believes they still pose a massive threat.
“They are very good at mauling,” White said, adding that the Bulls conceded plenty of penalties, he said of the 17 that were awarded against them in a 7-32 loss in Bloemfontein back in Round Three.
“In recent weeks 95 percent of their tries have come from a line-out.”
He said the formula is simple.
“We have to be accurate in our decisions, we should not give penalties away, don’t give them entries [opportunities] into our 22 and if we do we must stop their maul.
“It has been working for them and I can’t see them moving away from that.”
Despite the late forced change and absence of their star playmaker and main kicker, Pienaar, the visitors believe they have the firepower to get a win and retain their momentum going into the semifinals.
“It was a massive win for us, not to secure a home semifinal but as a team,” assistant coach Izak van der Westhuizen said.
“If we can just keep on building the momentum we got on the weekend.
“It’s something positive going on this week.”
(Article continues below the Jake White interview …)
* In the late match WP need to beat the Sharks – who are on a seven-game winning streak – to have any sort of chance of making the semifinals.
By the time they kick off, they will know if they are still in with a chance.
A win by the Bulls or two bonus points will knock WP out.
A win by the Cheetahs – also denying the Bulls any points- will aid their cause.
Sharks coach Joey Mongalo also spoke of the need to ‘maintain momentum’ on the back of a seven-match winning streak – going into the play-offs.
Having named a team loaded with United Rugby Championship players, he also well aware that cohesion may well be an issue.
“We had to ensure we nail down the detail, as this group is playing together for the first time,” Mongalo said, adding: “Some of the individuals have played together on occasion, but as a group it is their first game together.
“I’ll be surprised if the first 20 minutes looks organised and show cohesion.”
He described it as one of their biggest challenges of the season, against a “very good” Province team.
“Finishing top of the log, although important, is not the be-all and end-all.
“It is moire about keeping momentum into the play-offs.”
For WP, in desperate need of a bonus-point win to stay alive, the condition of the controversial Cape Town Stadium pitch – which caused the Stormers enormous problems in the URC Final – could also be a nightmare on Saturday.
Labeeb Levy, the Stormers and WP skills coach and performance analyst, said try not to place too much emphasis on the conditions or surface, and focus rather on their own game.
“[During the game] we may tweak the game plan – to kick a bit more and be more direct,” Levy said.
“In the [URC] Final we had a few slips,” he said, adding: “We are not going to play at Loftus and continuously talk about altitude.
“It then becomes something that holds you back and you forget about your game.
“We just have to adapt.
“We’ve played on there when it is wet, in the evenings and we have played well.
“We retained the same game model and the slips were minimal, compared to the [URC] Final.
“If it rains on the day, we may go a bit more direct. It is a decision we will make then.”
All the Saturday, June 10, teams and predictions below ...
Bulls v Cheetahs
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Bulls by eight points
Bulls: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 David Kriel, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Simphiwe Matanzima, 17 Bismarck du Plessis, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Wandisile Simelane.
Cheetahs: 15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Daniel Kasende, 13 David Brits, 12 Reinhardt Fortuin, 11 Cohen Jasper, 10 Sibabalo Masuku, 9 Rewan Kruger, 8 Friedle Olivier, 7 Sibabalo Qoma, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete (captain), 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jeandre Rudolph, 20 George Cronje, 21 Daniel Maartens, 22 Zinedine Booysen, 23 Robert Ebersohn.
Referee: AM Jacobs
Assistant referees: Phumzile Mbewu, Jonathan Lottering
TMO: Aimee Barrett-Theron
Western Province v Sharks
(Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Sharks by five points
Western Province: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Mnombo Zwelendaba, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Cornel Smit, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jurie Matthee, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Marcel Theunissen, 6 Willie Engelbrecht, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Ben-Jason Dixon, 3 Neethling Fouche (captain), 2 Andre-Hugo Venter, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 19 Connor Evans, 20 Jarrod Taylor, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Luke Burger.
Sharks: 15 Thaakir Abrahams, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Marnus Potgieter, 11 Phikolomzi Sobahle, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Phendulani Buthelezi (captain), 6 Thembelani Bholi, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Dameon Venter, 17 Dian Bleuler, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 Nick Hatton, 21 Celimpilo Gumede, 22 Tiaan Fourie, 23 Nevaldo Fleurs.