Real danger of slipping into Big Hole
The focus should really be on the top-of-the-log coastal derby in Durban that finishes off the weekend’s action, but the intriguing clash of the sixth round of Absa Currie Cup rugby is the one taking place in Kimberley at the start of the afternoon.
It appears to be crisis time at the Blue Bulls, with special meetings called in midweek to discuss a situation that sees South Africa’s most successful union of the past decade languishing at the foot of the Currie Cup log with half the league fixtures completed.
If you were to ask me, I would tell you it really isn’t a crisis. The domestic competition is played so under-strength, and there are so many injuries, that it has become nothing more than an extension of the Vodacom Cup.
Super Rugby is what defines success these days for the provincial unions, and a young Bulls team defied expectations this year by making the play-offs.
The strength versus strength element that has been introduced this year also made it possible that a big union would land up in the position that the Bulls are in now.
Performances generally have been wildly inconsistent, and while the Bulls may be last, they are only seven log points behind the log leaders, Western Province.
Indeed, just two weeks ago there were fears that it would be WP who would foot the log at the halfway mark, so it shows just how quickly things can change and just how unpredictable this year’s competition has been.
For instance, who would have predicted before the round of matches two weeks ago that Griquas would reach halfway with two wins on their record?
Back then they had lost three times in three starts and just never looked like winning. But now they go into the Bulls game with two successive wins behind them and their victims have been none other than the champion Lions away and the high-flying Sharks at home.
And that’s what makes the Kimberley game so intriguing – Griquas are playing for a third successive win over a big team. How often have they achieved that?
Conversely, the Bulls are playing to avoid a third consecutive defeat. And how often in the last three years have they lost three in a row?
If they do lose, then where they could find themselves is the equivalent of slipping down a precipitous path into Kimberley’s Big Hole, and they are sure to find the waters there dark and murky.
It will be a long way back for them, as they will then trail Griquas by more than the maximum haul of log points you can get from one game, and there will be just four matches remaining.
Included in their last four are clashes with the in-form WP, a trip to Durban to play the Sharks and one to Johannesburg to play the team that beat them at Loftus last week.
If they do lose, which I somehow don’t expect them to, don’t bet against the Cheetahs putting more daylight between the Bulls and the disappearing pack by beating the Lions in Bloemfontein in the middle game on Saturday.
Naka Drotske must be tearing out what remains of his hair in frustration after two consecutive losses where the result could just as easily have gone the other way.
Against both the Sharks in Durban and Province at home last week his team had chances to win and they didn’t take them. Expect it to be third time lucky against the champions, who like most of the other teams have been good in patches but are struggling for consistency.
Consistency is something WP appears to have found, even if in this case it means they have managed to win just two games in a row.
There is something about their recent form that suggests they will be in the top two at the end of the league season regardless of what happens on Saturday in Durban, and the Sharks/WP game could well be the one that decides where this year’s Currie Cup final is played.
At home the Sharks will start as favourites and more so in the absence of WP’s strongman Rynhardt Elstadt, with the blindside flank succumbing to another injury and forcing him back to the sidelines after two good games in the blue and white hoops.
Elstadt would have been WP’s main hope of cancelling out the Sharks’ impressive No 7 Jean Deysel.
WP though think they owe the Sharks one after the successive defeats in two different competitions at Newlands last month so they will go to Durban bristling with intent and with their new commitment to an allround, balanced approach to their rugby, the late one should be the match of the weekend and also possibly the one that gives the best indication of where this competition is headed.
Weekend fixtures (all Saturday, all times are CAT, SA, GMT+2)
GWK Griquas v Vodacom Blue Bulls (Kimberley, 3pm)
Toyota Free State Cheetahs v MTN Golden Lions (Bloemfontein, 5.05pm)
The Sharks v DHL Western Province (Durban, 7.10pm)