Log standings provide fascinating finale
You just have to look at the team selections for this weekend’s last round of Absa Currie Cup league matches to figure out which are playing with the Sword of Damocles known as promotion-relegation hanging over them, and which aren’t.
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee admitted earlier this week that it was the threat of relegation that prompted him to field all his returning Springboks in Saturday’s game against the Cheetahs at Newlands. But even if he hadn’t said that, you could probably figure it out just by looking at the way the various coaches have responded to the challenge posed by the last round.
The Sharks and the Lions can’t be relegated, and neither can they be knocked off their current perch at the top. They will both play semifinals next weekend regardless of what happens this weekend. So unsurprisingly they haven’t exactly rushed their first-choice Boks back into action, with the Lions’ Johan Ackermann leaving Jaco Taute out completely and playing Elton Jantjies off the bench, while some other stalwarts have also been rested in a team that shows eight changes to the one that lost to Griquas last week.
And the Sharks’ John Plumtree has done pretty much the same thing, with players who have grafted hard for the Boks in recent weeks such as Willem Alberts sitting out the Friday night game against Griquas.
For the rest, it’s pretty much a case of selecting every living organism capable of helping them fend off the threat of having to play a relegation game, even if in the case of Coetzee you get the definite impression that he doesn’t necessarily think it is for the long term good of either his players or the union.
If he does have his reservations he would be right to -- Jean de Villiers watched from the side of the field when his team trained on Wednesday as he nursed an injury, and after playing almost non-stop since his brief break for an injury sustained on the Stormers’ Super Rugby tour of Australasia back in April, you have to wonder whether it’s wise to be playing this week.
The Springboks swing back into action against Ireland in Dublin four weeks from Saturday, and after such an arduous season you would think De Villiers and Bryan Habana, to name just two Boks, would be better off putting their feet up after all their toil and in preparation for the next important phase of the 2012 term.
But desperate times call for desperate measures and if Coetzee and his Bulls and Cheetahs counterparts did not choose their best players and their team ended up getting relegated…well, there might just be a lynch party organised for them.
It’s a pity really for no matter how hard the marketers might try to sell this little window of full-strength rugby as an advertisement for the supposed gravitas of the Currie Cup, they must surely know that they are flogging a horse that long ago breathed its last laboured breath.
That is not to say though that there is not plenty to keep us absorbed over the next two days, and as De Villiers said of his role as a Currie Cup spectator this year, it has delivered in terms of what a competition should in the sense that every team has something to play for this weekend.
The Sharks should settle the argument about who ends top by beating Griquas on Friday evening, but you get the feeling that the Sharks might not mind too much if they lost this game. The Lions have an under-strength team playing against the full-strength Bulls, so should lose, and a Griquas win will make it harder for the potentially dangerous Bulls to sneak into the top four, which would almost certainly set up a clash with the Sharks in next week’s first playoff round.
If the Sharks are thinking that playing Griquas in Durban next Saturday will suit them better than playing the Bulls it would be understandable.
However, there problem is that they start the weekend’s action, so they know it would be unwise to try and manipulate anything as a Lions win in Johannesburg in the late game on Saturday could then prevent them from topping the standings.
With as many as seven Springboks back in action, the home side should be strongly favoured in Cape Town, and probably would have been had the Boks not been back against a Cheetahs side that was unable to call up Johan Goosen because of injury and which has struggled more than anticipated in the domestic season.
So unless the Sharks find that the old banana skin that used to be paraded around Kings Park in the days when they were known as the banana lies buried somewhere on the turf ready to trip them up on Friday, the smart money should be on wins for the Durbanites, WP and the Bulls, which would mean next week we see the Sharks host the Bulls and the Lions at home to Province.
It does provide for a fascinating finish -- though it didn’t require the Boks to be played into the ground for that to be so for the log pretty much looked after the intrigue aspect anyway.
Sharks v GWK Griquas Durban 7.05pm
DHL Western Province v Toyota Free State Cheetahs Cape Town 5.05pm
MTN Golden Lions v Vodacom Blue Bulls 7.10pm