THE tempo of the Currie Cup series is expected to rise significantly this weekend as the scramble for semifinal places reaches a new level with only five rounds of matches left in the pool stages.
While the Blue Bulls, Griquas and the Cheetahs will be desperate to secure victories to avoid slipping too far behind the top teams, Western Province, the Lions and Sharks will be determined to widen the distance between themselves and the trailing teams.
Griquas and the Blue Bulls will kick off the weekend’s action in Kimberley tomorrow, with the Cheetahs lining up against the Lions in Bloemfontein and the Sharks taking on Western Province in Durban.
Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar and Griquas coach Pote Human acknowledged they were in similarly precarious situations as a victory tomorrow would reignite their semifinal hopes while a defeat could deal a huge blow to their campaigns.
Pienaar singled out the set pieces and breakdowns as a key areas in the clash and said his team had to neutralise Griquas flank Marnus Schoeman, in particular, a player who has created headaches for opposition teams at the rucks in the past few weeks.
"We are in the same boat because a victory could push us into contention for a semifinal berth, while a defeat could force us to a point of no return in the series," Pienaar said. "It is important that we stamp our authority in the game. Griquas’ game revolves around forward dominance, so they will place emphasis on the scrums and mauls, and they proved against the Lions that they can attack well."
Province assistant coach Matthew Proudfoot is also anticipating a tight tussle against the Sharks, and said tight defence and possession would be vital to register a victory.
Interestingly, Sharks coach John Plumtree made four changes to his team yesterday, with the most notable being talented centre Tim Whitehead replacing Paul Jordaan, who is recovering from a concussion. Hooker Pieter Dixon takes over from Monde Hadebe and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach earns a start in a rotational switch with Charl McLeod.
"We know what the Sharks will bring," Proudfoot said. "They rely heavily on their big ball-carriers up front and their back line can cut you to pieces if they get space, so we have to be smart in our approach. Looking at our game, we have to build on our form from the last two weeks but reduce the number of turnovers we concede because that has been one of our weak points."
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