The Sharks and Western “Problems” are in.
The Bulls are a shoo-in and Griquas should be able to do enough to make it. I’m backing Griquas over the Cheetahs because with the Sharks needing a full house of points, the game is surely to open up and Griquas should be able to get the bonus points they need so badly.
It will be a strong lesson for the Cheetahs on the virtues of starting as you aim to finish this. They started slow before building up a good head of steam in the latter stages of the CC. But while Griquas’ strong start allowed them the luxury of a bubble, the Cheetahs are facing the reverse.
From then on it gets interesting. Whoever gets Griquas in their semi will make it to the final. The boys from Kimberley have plenty heart but lack the two most important ingredients for play-off success; big match experience and class across the ranks. It will be one of those tight first-half, walkover second-half affairs. I’m backing WP to get 5 points from the Lions clash and given that I expect Griquas to get two against the Sharks, Province should then top the log thus getting to spank Griquas at home.
The Sharks will host the Bulls in a Springbok-laden damn-nearly-as-close-to-a-Test-match as you can get spectacle. That is if we get a repeat of their final round Super 14 round-robin game. The match-ups are numerous. The Springbok front row vs a Bulls front row seeking to salvage its image. Steve Sykes and Joe Muller standing up to the men they seek to one day replace in the Bok fold, Ruan lining up against the Bok general Fourie, the silky Argentine Hernandez vs the reliable Morne Steyn, Habana vs JPP, the old master Terblanche vs the fullback find of the season Zane Kirchner, and of course, Kankowski vs Spies. Classic match-ups all around.
Could be a classic for the ages this. The Sharks have stuttered a bit since the Springboks returned but with another game to come this weekend before the semi, they should have had time to gel. The Bulls will have a huge amount of momentum behind them going into the match, plus the unerring boot of Steyn driving them forward. Logic dictates that the Bulls should walk it, but my heart refuses to accept it.
One thing is clear, whoever wins this clash will have too much firepower for Province the following weekend. The WP boys have made great use of a team ethic and minimal disruptions from international rugby to get where they are, but the Bulls and Sharks are just simply better teams. Luke will shine in his farewell, Joe Pietersen and Zane Kirchner’s Bok audition will be a nice subplot, Ricky will remind us why he is a great alternative to Fourie when the match loosens up, but ultimately the Bulls should triumph.
And I will never hear the end of it from Traps.
Eish. Sharks for the upset anyone?