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Rugby | Currie Cup

Pumas obstacle to Sharks dominance



The Steval Pumas stand in the way of the Cell C Sharks strengthening their already dominant grip on the Currie Cup log.

Their win over the weakened Toyota Free State Cheetahs the previous week enabled the Sharks to leapfrog Bloemfontein to top spot on the log, and with the Cheetahs likely to be up against it when they play DHL Western Province in Cape Town on Saturday, this weekend represents an opportunity for the Durban side to extend their lead at the top.

However, their trip to Nelspruit to face the Pumas on Friday night is not going to be an easy one considering that the hosts have shown outstanding form at home this season. They topped the half century mark against the Vodacom Blue Bulls the last time they played at Mbombela Stadium and pipped the Xerox Golden Lions in the first round.

The Sharks also don’t boast the strongest record in the Lowveld, as shown by the fact that they lost there in both 2014 and 2015. It has prompted Sharks coach Robert du Preez to ratchet up the pressure on his players by proclaiming that this could be his team’s toughest game so far.

“I honestly think this is going to be our hardest game to date,” said Du Preez after naming his team. “They have an abrasive pack of forwards and we are going to have to deal with that. Nelspruit on a Friday afternoon is a tough ask, and we are going to have to be up for it.”

If the Sharks win it will extend their winning run to seven, something they have not achieved since 2010, when they won the Currie Cup under the coaching of John Plumtree. There will be a lot of focus in the Nelspruit game on the performance of Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch, who has been urged by Springbok coach Allister Coetzee to show what he learned and gained from his few weeks as a member of the national camp at the start of the Rugby Championship season.

There are two matches to be played on Friday this week, with the Lions also facing a tough away fixture in the form of the Tafel Lager Griquas in Kimberley. The Lions team sheet is starting to look stronger by the week and they should fancy their chances of adding to their home win against the Pumas last week.

What will be interesting to see in the Newlands game on Saturday is what the young Cheetahs side, effectively that union’s third string side, learned from their clash with the Sharks in Durban last week. Although well beaten in the end, it was the first game at Currie Cup level for many of the Cheetahs players and they did show signs of promise as a team early in that encounter.

WP have a good chance of moving into second position and challenging for a home semifinal in the coming weeks but will need to bounce back from their narrow home defeat to the Sharks last time out. It is interesting to see yet another Blitzbok star, Werner Kok, being added to the WP starting team. Kok played for Province last year but this is his first match of the season.

There will be a lot of focus at Newlands on the performance of young Craig Barry at fullback. Barry was one of the stars of WP’s successful SuperSport Challenge campaign and will want to make full use of this opportunity to nail down a permanent starting place.

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Steval Pumas v Cell C Sharks (Nelspruit, Friday 5pm)

Tafel Lager Griquas v Xerox Golden Lions (Kimberley, Friday 7.15pm

DHL Western Province v Toyota Free State Cheetahs (Cape Town, Saturday 3pm)



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