The Cheetahs and Blue Bulls will be fighting for supremacy at the coast on Saturday in their respective Absa Currie Cup clashes against the teams that tend to save their best for these particular matches.
First the Sharks host the Free State squad in Durban at 3pm before Western Province take on the men from Pretoria at 5.05pm.
The third match of the day involves the Lions and Leopards who will be slugging it out at Ellis Park from 5.05pm
In the first contest, the Sharks will have to deliver a far better performance than last week when they nearly lost to the Pumas in Nelspruit.
The Cheetahs played a good brand of rugby in their match against the Bulls although the result did not go their way.
They have also built a reputation over the years as the team with the best chance of knocking the Sharks over.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske did, however, point out that their run of success against the defending champions had come to an end and that they no longer have that psychological advantage.
“We have done well against them before, but last year they beat us twice, so I don’t think we can be regarded as the Sharks’ bogey team anymore,” said Drotske. “They were very impressive against the Bulls [in round one] and we’ll have to play well on Saturday.”
Sharks coach John Plumtree complimented the Cheetahs on their showing at Loftus Versfeld last week saying that Drotske’s men could have won had they not slacked towards the end.
“They could have beaten the Bulls easily last week, but they just slipped off the money in the second half,” said Plumtree.
“They’ll just talk about coming up with an 80 minute performance and we certainly have to come up with that as well.”
While the battle between the respective centre pairings should be an interesting one — with former Shark Andries Strauss up against former Cheetah Meyer Bosman — the competition between flyhalves Freddie Michalak and Sias Ebersohn should have the biggest influence on the outcome of the match.
Meanwhile in Cape Town, Western Province will look to nip the confidence the Blue Bulls gained by staging a comeback victory in the bud.
After only managing a draw against Griquas and securing a more convincing win over the Leopards, coach Allister Coetzee’s men will have to be on top of their game in their toughest assignment of the season thus far.
For new Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar, the unknown factor of Province rugby could complicate matters.
“You won’t know what they want to do against you,” said Pienaar. “They want a high paced game and want to give the ball some air but the thing is they can play a territory game as well, not to forget their good defence system.”
Pienaar has for the third week in a row selected the same team only tweaking his bench. In contrast Coetzee has beefed-up his frontrow by including Tiaan Liebenberg — who will also captain the team — in the run-on side.
“They [Province] have a nice mixture and it is up to us to handle what we get from them, and apply pressure to focus what we worked on this week,” said Pienaar.
In Johannesburg the Lions are expected to make light work of the Leopards even though they had lost two key backline players this week.
The Lions will be without skipper Doppies La Grange and wing Lionel Mapoe who will be replaced by Alwyn Hollenbach and Dylan des Fountain respectively
Lions coach John Mitchell said his team’s success rests on their ability to stick to the plan.
“If we go into the match concerning ourselves about what the Leopards do or what they don’t do, rather than actually bettering our own performance then we will have a tough night.” — Sapa