Currie Cup too close to call as sides beef up with Boks
SHARKS flyhalf Pat Lambie will make his first start in a match for more than two months when he leads the line against Griquas at Kings Park tonight.
Lambie has spent a frustrating eight weeks on the periphery of the Springbok team, but tonight has been tasked with ensuring the Sharks end their campaign with a victory that would lock up first position on the standings - guaranteeing his team a Kings Park final on October 27 if they win through the semifinals.
Coach John Plumtree, unlike his colleagues at the Blue Bulls and Western Province, was conservative in rushing his returning Boks into the starting line-up.
Lambie is the only player from the national team who featured against the All Blacks at Soccer City last week to start for the Durban side tonight. Others such as prop Jannie du Plessis, flank Marcell Coetzee and wing Lwazi Mvovo are on the bench. Tendai Mtawarira and flank Willem Alberts have been left out altogether.
Clearly the Sharks believe the players who have put them on top through nine rounds of play have the goods to ensure they will remain there after this weekend's final pool action. Griquas are vying for their first Currie Cup semifinal since 1998, and even a defeat could still see them qualify if other results go their way.
Pote Human's side have 20 points, two more than both the Bulls and the Cheetahs, who play the Golden Lions and Western Province respectively. Losses for Province and the Bulls would almost certainly see Griquas advance to the play-offs - unless they suffer a massive defeat and the Cheetahs or Bulls gain two losing bonus points.
The shortened competition has been a success in keeping semifinal places unresolved until the final pool action.
"For the first time in a long time, everyone has something to play for on the last weekend," WP skipper Jean de Villiers said.
The Lions and Sharks are both assured of a play-off berth, but are both vying for top spot, while the next four - WP, Griquas, Cheetahs and Bulls - are contesting two semifinal places and one relegation play-off place. It's that tight.
Tomorrow, WP - beefed up by the inclusion of seven returning Boks - clash against the Cheetahs at Newlands in what is effectively a quarterfinal.
WP, for the first time in this Currie Cup campaign, look more like a Stormers unit, while the Cheetahs are as powerful as they can be with the return of prop Coenie Oosthuizen and hooker Adriaan Strauss.
In tomorrow's final match, the Blue Bulls travel to Ellis Park where they have to beat the Lions to salvage something from a disappointing campaign. If they lose, coach Pine Pienaar could be heading for the exit door at Loftus. Which is why the under-siege coach has recalled five Boks to the starting line-up and a further two to the bench. The Lions added two Boks - flyhalf Elton Jantjies and prop Pat Cilliers - to their side.