An unbiased rugby lover can look forward to a couple of great contests this weekend.
Top of the Pops
The main match this weekend must be the tussle between the two sides heading the log.
The Sharks, heading the table, face second placed Brumbies who are five points adrift, but with a game in hand.
After losing by twenty points against the Crusaders last week, the home side will want to make amends for the drubbing they got. Getting a five-pointer and leaving the Sharks pointless will be a target they will set themselves, but one has to be more than super optimistic to expect this to materialise.
At the back of the Brumbies’ minds will be the fact that Jake White knows their strengths and weaknesses. I suspect that a large part of their preparation will be focused on outsmarting White, which will be a huge mistake.
The Sharks are a well-balanced side, and apart from a defensive lapse a few weeks ago against the Highlanders, have managed to keep their try-line uncrossed most of the time. This is reflected in the relatively low scores in their ten matches thus far, unlike the Cheetahs.
The loss of Marcel Coetzee is a big blow, but perhaps moving the bone collector back to flank will help the side to dominate even more physically against a side forced to employ dubious tactics at the set pieces to remain competitive.
Conceding penalties within 60 metres of your goal posts against a side containing Boom- Boom Steyn can be very costly. Let’s hope the referee, and his assistants, do what they are supposed to do.
Despite a spluttering season, the Chiefs are still in third place, and will be trying to take full advantage of their home game on Saturday.
The Blues, in turn, have not done well away from home. In fact, they have not won once.
Listening to a discussion on the game between Gregor Paul and Wynne Gray, it appears that NZ experts expect the inevitable – a win for the Chiefs. After the drubbing of the Reds by the Blues last week, I am not convinced. The Blues have a powerful pack, a resurgent Nonu capable of destroying any defence, and a wily campaigner in their coach, Sir John Kirwan.
You will remember that the Chiefs very often had to play catch-up this season. Their two draws against the Bulls and the Cheetahs were remarkable comebacks, but this is unlikely to happen against a Blues side which does not enjoy being riled in their own country.
I expect a surprise here.
It is not often that I get excited about a player being injured, but the fact that Jean de Villiers is out for two weeks is almost as heartening as the way the Stormers played last week. One swallow does not make a summer, so I am curious to see how they perform on Saturday.
The Bulls are technically in a position to still make the play-offs if they win their remaining games with 5 point victories. Before anyone sniggers, just remember a few seasons ago when they clubbed the Reds, scoring 92 points, to make the play-offs. A wounded Bull is as dangerous as a wounded buffalo.
With the Stormers having to dig into the Varsity Cup larder to try and get 23 players on the pitch for the day, I suspect that this mountain will be too steep for the boys from Cape Town.
On Naas’s other hand: Schalk Burger has never flinched from a good scrap, and being a typical Kaapse Klong, you can expect him to lead by example.