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Currie Cup semi-final preview: South Africa’s best go for gold

Elite club rugby leagues are winding down around the world, and the South African scene looks particularly set for the madness to come.

The country’s top club rugby competition, the Currie Cup, is perhaps as open as it has been in years as several of the country’s historic powerhouses found themselves out of contention for a championship, even before the start of the playoffs.

In fact, two clubs – one of which has never won, the other for over 50 years – can go down in history with triumphs over the next two weeks.

However, some of the competition’s old guard remain in the way, and they’re sure to put up some big fights as they too seek additions to their trophy cabinets. It’s as blue blooded versus underdog as it gets, and the tension should match the stakes.

What to watch out for as the Currie Cup semi-finals kick off this weekend? Take a look at both clashes, as the Currie Cup finalists are decided live on FloRugby:

Free State Cheetahs Vs. Cougars

After edging out the two-time defending champion Blue Bulls on the final day of the regular season to secure the playoff seed, the Cheetahs now have home-court advantage for the rest of the playoffs. That’s especially important if they end up with the Blue Bulls in next weekend’s final.

Before that happens, coach Hawies Fourie’s men have a score to settle with the Pumas.

The Cheetahs were a force to be reckoned with in the last 14 matchweeks, losing just two out of 12 games, while star man and hooker Louis van der Westhuizen led the Currie Cup with an astonishing 15 tries – nearly double the amount of this list’s runner-up Angelo Davids of Western Province (who had eight).

Namibian van der Westhuizen scored twice in the second of his side’s two encounters this season against Pumas on Matchday 13, but the Mbombela-based club managed to secure a thrilling 29-28 victory, courtesy of their winger Devon Williams’ own brace.

The upcoming rematch now has much higher stakes.

While the Cheetahs are considered one of South Africa’s ‘Big 5’ teams known for their historic successes in the sport and last won the Currie Cup in 2019, the Pumas have never won the competition and are one win away from their first final in team history. . They find themselves in the midst of a resurgence under manager Jimmy Stonehouse, who is in his second stint with the club after originally being on the touchline from 2008 to 2015.

With a defense that has allowed the fewest tries (31) in the competition plus a chance to create history, the Pumas will hope a fairy tale season can continue with a second straight win over the Cheetahs.

Against a Free State side that have scored at least 35 points in five games this season, the underdogs will need to hold one last attack to find themselves playing for a shot at Currie Cup glory.

Blue Bulls vs. Griquas

Historically, the Blue Bulls do not tolerate not being the best for long.

With 25 titles (only behind Western Province’s 34) as one of the most successful clubs in South Africa’s ‘Big 5’, it still took the Pretoria-based side more than a decade of trying to regain the upper hand between his Currie Cup championships, winning in 2009 and then 2020-21.

2022 Blue Bulls vs Griquas

However, it looks like coach Gert Smal’s side have found the formula recently.

As the reigning two-time Currie Cup winners, the Blue Bulls are in search of the competition’s first treble since they did it from 2002 to 2004. With the most tries (56) in the Currie Cup this season, they certainly have the firepower to do so.

Blue Bulls and Springbok legend Morne Steyn hits fly-half, despite being less than a month away from his 38th birthday, with him and Chris Smith combining for 100 points this season as a combination lethal in attack.

However, the team is also reeling from a recent shock to the system. With playoff rugby already secured in Round 14, the team were beaten 35-5 by the Cheetahs, a performance that saw the Bulls slip to the second seed for the playoffs.

The Griquas are now waiting, having enjoyed an excellent first season from the touchline under manager Pieter Bergh, a longtime former Griquas assistant who was given the top job after Scott Mathie left for the Major League. Rugby in the United States.

Comfortably making the playoffs as one of three clubs to breach the 50 try barrier, the Griquas should expect another quick, high-scoring affair when they meet the Bulls in the semi-finals, after their two previous games this year have ended 53-27 and 48-38 – both Bulls win.

Perhaps a Griquas redemption victory is written in the stars. After all, the Blue Bulls (then known as Northern Transvaal) were the team the Griquas beat in their final Currie Cup title season in 1970, the only Currie Cup championship the team has won over the past 100 years.

It would be a major shock if the boys from the Northern Cape were successful, but in a season where three members of the ‘Big 5’ – the Sharks, Golden Lions and Western Province – missed the playoffs, who’s to say? there can’t be room for a little more chaos?

Currie Cup Tales from the Strip

Free State Cheetahs (Bloemfontein, Free State): Six times champions (Last title: 2019). Top points scorer: Ruan Pienaar (113). Top try scorer: Louis van der Westhuizen (15).

Blue Bulls (Pretoria, Gauteng): 25 times champions (Last title: 2021). Top points scorer: Chris Smith (54). Top try scorer: David Kriel (six).

Griquas (Kimberley, North Cape): Triple champion (Last title: 1970). Best points scorer: Zander du Plessis (95). Top try scorers: Munier Hartzenberg and Hanru Sirgel (six).

Pumas (Mbombela, Mpumalanga): Never Currie Cup champions. Top points scorer: Eddie Fouché (66). Top try scorers: Eduan Swart and Sebastian de Klerk (five).