History hovering over Currie Cup semifinals
A lot needs to happen for the Lions to host cross-Jukskei rivals the Blue Bulls at Ellis Park in the Currie Cup final next weekend, but it’s turning out to be quite an enticing prospect.
And one, with current form and history thrown into the mix, which is much more than purely a pipe dream for rugby romantics. A quick glance at the final standings – which is of course null and void before Saturday’s two semifinals kick off – will show us the Sharks ran away with things after winning 10 of their 12 matches, securing top spot by a massive 10 points.
Further down the race was much closer, with all of five teams still in with a shout at the start of the last round of group matches. Western Province surprised the Sharks in Durban to secure second spot and a home semifinal against the third-placed Lions, while the Blue Bulls battled their way to fourth place to book a showdown with the Sharks in Durban.
Yes, the hosts will be favoured to advance to the final, which will be in Durban should that be the case, but I suspect the Sharks and Province will have plenty to ponder as the weekend draws closer. After securing home advantage for the play-offs, the Sharks came back after a bye and looked terrible in their loss against WP.
Coach Robert du Preez will hope it’s just a wobble, but should they battle to regain their confidence against a rejuvenated Bulls outfit, they might be in for a surprise. The men in blue have fought their way back from play-off no-hopers to become a force to be reckoned with under John Mitchell, who took the reins from Nollis Marais earlier in their campaign.
They are high on confidence as their 25 tries in their last three outings would indicate and it will be foolish to write them off based on their position. Over in Cape Town, Province coach John Dobson will also rest uneasy, knowing his troops will have to contain a quality Lions team that could have nine Super Rugby final starters in their runon side.
And Swys de Bruin’s charges will have a massive point to prove, taking into account that they were given a raw deal having to field a severely weakened team in this competition for the first three weeks while they were also contesting the Super Rugby playoffs.
And the recent addition of their Springbok stars will make the Lions even more dangerous, like their commanding victory over the Cheetahs on Saturday showed. And my advice to Du Preez and Dobson would be not to read up on history too much this week.
In 2002, the Sharks and Cheetahs hosted the Currie Cup semifinals after finishing first and second respectively, but the Bulls were victorious in Durban and the Lions mauled the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein to set up an Ellis Park final, which the Bulls won in emphatic style.
In 2009, the high-flying Sharks won 12 out of 14 matches, but crashed against the Cheetahs in a home semi, while the Bulls got the better of Province at Newlands and went on to beat the Free Staters in the final at Loftus Versfeld. A Jukskei derby in Doornfontein next weekend is not that farfetched.