The scramble for home semifinals and the last semifinal place up for grabs in the Absa Currie Cup First Division will reach boiling point this weekend as the teams take to the field in the penultimate round of pool matches.
Only one log point separates log-leaders the Leopards from the second-placed Down Touch Griffons, while the Valke and Boland Cavaliers will go head-to-head for the last semifinal spot as only five points currently separate them on the log. The SWD Eagles, meanwhile, require only more point to cement their semifinal spot as they already boast a 10-point lead over the fourth-placed Valke on the standings.
The Border Bulldogs will host the Leopards in the opening match of the weekend on Friday in East London, while the SWD Eagles take on the Boland Cavaliers in George and the Valke go up against the Down Touch Griffons in Kempton Park on Saturday.
With only one victory in the competition so far the Border Bulldogs face a tough task trying to topple the Leopards, who will be hunting a bonus-point victory to ensure that they remain at the top of the log for a home semifinal and possibly home final. The last time the teams lined up in July the Leopards smashed the East London side 103-15. While this result will inspire the Leopards to repeat this feat, the hosts are expected to put their bodies on the line to avoid suffering a similar fate. The Bulldogs, however, will draw confidence from their vast improvement since, as their biggest losing margin in their last three matches was nine points. The Leopards have made several changes to their team, which includes debutantes, No8 PJ Uys, wing Adri Jacobs and replacement flyhalf Warren Gilbert, as a handful of players were ruled out due to injury.
The SWD Eagles will also target a victory against the Boland Cavaliers, especially after winning four of their last five matches. However, they will be wary of Boland as the Wellington side went down by only three points the last time the teams met. They have also shown impressive form on attack this season, which secured them four bonus points for tries in their eight matches. SWD, however, have suffered only one defeat at home this season and they will be determined to maintain this impressive success rate. The hosts made a handful of changes to their backline for the clash which sees fullback Gerhard Smith, wing Hentzwill Pedro and centre Brian Skosana earning starts, with the only change among the forwards being flank Alwyn Bester replacing Buran Parks.
In Kempton Park the clash between the Valke and Down Touch Griffons should be thrilling as both teams will be desperate for a victory. While the hosts will look to maintain their five-point lead over the Boland Cavaliers on the log table, which would place them in a favourable position to advance to the playoff stages, the Down Touch Griffons will be driven by their desire to match the Leopards on log points or possibly leap-frog them on the standings. The visitors will enter the clash as favourites on form, but the Valke will draw confidence from their upset against the SWD Eagles in their last home game. That said they will be mindful of the fact that the Welkom side have won their last four matches. The Down Touch Griffons have made a few changes to their team with scrumhalf Vink van der Walt earning his first start in place of Boela Abrahams, who withdrew due to personal reasons, while Franna du Toit and Wynand Pienaar will start at flyhalf and fullback respectively among other changes.
Absa Currie Cup First Division fixtures:
- Border Bulldogs vs Leopards – Venue: BCM Stadium, East London. Date: Friday, 19 September 2014. Time: 17h00. eferee: Jaco Peyper
- SWD Eagles vs Boland Cavaliers – Venue: Outeniqua Park, George. Date: Saturday, 20 September 2014. Time: 13h00. Referee: Ben Crouse
- Valke vs Down Touch Griffons – Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park. Date: Saturday, 20 September 2014. Time: 15h00. Referee: Frederico Anselmi