One week later than originally billed we have the semi-finals of the Currie Cup on tap this weekend. All four squads should be rested and ready to go in these matches, with the two winners facing off for the trophy next weekend.
Here is a look at the two contests.
Bulls vs. Lions
Saturday, January 23 – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
The Bulls have been the class of this competition – other than the final round game against the Pumas where Jake White put out a team of kids that were destroyed 44-14. White knew that match didn’t matter as the Bulls already had top spot and a home semi-final secured before kickoff. This is a team with a number of players – the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Kurt-Lee Arendse, and Marco van Staden – who can all take over games and power the Pretorian team to a win. The Lions finished in fourth place on the log, beating out the Cheetahs to the final semi-final spot. This is a team that came on strong late as they won five of their six games after Super Rugby Unlocked gave way to the Currie Cup. Their only defeat in this half of the competition was at the hands of these Bulls.
The Bulls return to full strength for this one with Ivan van Zyl and Morne Steyn combining in the halves and Cornal Hendricks and Stedman Gans looking to do damage in midfield. Vermeulen returns and resumes captaincy of the side as part of a loaded back row that also features Elrigh Louw and Marco van Staden.
Swanepoel – perhaps the find of the season in the entire competition – will continue to lead from the back for the Lions on Saturday. He will be joined by other players who are having fantastic seasons, including former Bulls centre Burger Odendaal and former Springbok prop Jannie du Plessis. These are three players that need to be on it from the first minute if the Lions have any chance of an outright win in enemy territory.
The Lions are playing as well as anyone in the competition. I don’t have enough confidence in them to say they will beat the Bulls outright, but I do think that the boot of Tiaan Swanepoel will be enough to see the cover the 9.5 point spread at 0.90 with BetXChange.
Western Province vs. Sharks
Saturday, January 23 – DHL Newlands, Cape Town
The second semi-final on Saturday sees DHL Western Province take on the Cell C Sharks. Western Province finished the season in second place on the log – securing this semi-final in Cape Town in the process – while the Sharks were one place behind them in third. The two squads finished with identical records of seven wins, three losses, and two draws apiece, but Western Province took the higher spot as they picked up two more bonus points along the way to finish with 37 points to 35 for the Sharks.
The home side will be without Springbok loosehead Steven Kitshoff who will have to miss this clash as he is in the Covid-19 protocol. They will, however, welcome back captain Siya Kolisi, who returns after missing the last two games of the season for the same reason. Two other changes in the pack see Salmaan Moerat come back into the side at lock ahead of David Meihuizen, while Alistair Vermaak takes the place of Kitshoff in the matchday 23.
The Sharks know the set-piece battle will be the key to this contest and their tight five has been picked accordingly. The inclusion of Springbok tighthead Thomas du Toit after his Covid-19 exposure is no surprise, with the big news being the selection of JJ van der Mescht in the second row. He replaces Hyron Andrews – a player who had forged an impressive tandem with Ruben van Heerden for the majority of this season – but with size being an important factor it is Van der Mescht that gets to nod.
The Sharks have the ability to in this but they have been so hot and cold this season that it is hard to feel comfortable picking them. The loss of Kitshoof, however, is a major issue for WP. He does everything for this team at a high level – including carries, ball steals, and tackles made – and with him out of the team, the Sharks aren’t a bad price at all at 1.35 with BetXChange to pull off an upset.