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Rugby | Currie Cup

Intriguing battle looms for second spot



The Cell C Sharks can still theoretically be overhauled by the Free State Cheetahs but looking at it realistically the remaining rounds of the Currie Cup are all about deciding second place on the log as well as the other two participants in the play-offs.

Theoretically there are still six teams in the race for silverware, and that includes the Blue Bulls, who currently languish in sixth place – 23 points behind the Sharks and 10 adrift of the second placed Cheetahs. For them much will hinge on what happens next, with an appetising fixture scheduled for this coming Sunday against traditional rivals Western Province.

It is a must win for both teams. For the Bulls a positive result is a non-negotiable if they want to make the play-offs, while WP will be looking to bolster their challenge for second spot, which will mean home ground advantage in the semi-final round.

Intrigue was added to the race for second place by the Cheetahs’ exciting late win over the Pumas in Bloemfontein on Friday night. With the champions competing with a second string side due to PRO14 commitments, the general consensus was that the Cheetahs would have dropped out of the reckoning had they lost.

However their bold late rally against a Pumas team that led for most of the way has changed the landscape completely by giving them enough of a buffer to bid for a place in the semifinals, and possibly even second spot. For them a lot will hinge on their central union derby against Griquas in Kimberley next weekend and then comes a big home clash with the Bulls.

A win over Griquas will make them likely semi-finalists in this season where all the teams with the exception of the Sharks have been inconsistent.

At this point the four teams currently occupying the four top spots do look likely to finish in the play-off bracket, though not necessarily in their current order.

We will know a lot more after the coming weekend, which in addition to the Kimberley and Pretoria clashes also sees the Lions travelling to Durban. The 2015 winners will feel they must win if they are to retain any interest in second place and a home semifinal.

Of the four teams at the top, it is WP who have the toughest end to the pool phase. They travel to Johannesburg the week after the Bulls match and then conclude the league stage in Durban. The Sharks should have already clinched top spot by then so Province might be hoping they will play an understrength team in the Kings Park clash.

The Sharks can only be pipped by the Cheetahs, and only if the Cheetahs get a full house of five log points from all their remaining three games and the Sharks lose both their remaining games and fail to pick up at least one losing bonus point (their points difference would be more than enough to secure them top spot in the event of a tie).

WEEKEND RESULTS:

Free State Cheetahs 33 Steval Pumas 32

Cell C Sharks 18 Vodacom Blue Bulls 5

DHL Western Province 55 Tafel Lager Griquas 27

Remaining matches for teams in contention:

Sharks (currently 43 pts) – Lions (home), Western Province (home).

Free State Cheetahs (30) – Griquas (away), Blue Bulls (home), Golden Lions (away)

Western Province (27) – Blue Bulls (away), Golden Lions (away), Sharks (away)

Golden Lions (25) – Sharks (away), Western Province (home), Cheetahs (home)

Pumas (24) – Griquas (home), Blue Bulls (away)

Blue Bulls (20) – Western Province (home), Cheetahs (away), Pumas (home).



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