Defending champions the MTN Golden Lions have a three-point lead at the top of the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division standings with two rounds to play after a crucial 22-9 victory over DHL Western Province at Newlands on Saturday.
WP are now third on 20 points, eight behind the log-topping Lions but only three ahead of Toyota Free State Cheetahs, who moved two points clear into fourth thanks to a 35-20 derby win over GWK Griquas in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
And in the weekend's opening match on Friday night in Durban, the Sharks beat the Vodacom Blue Bulls 13-12 in heavy rain to move to 25 points – three behind the Lions and with a five-point buffer between them and WP. The Blue Bulls, meanwhile, are sixth on the log following their fifth defeat in eight matches.
Sharks (5) 13 Vodacom Blue Bulls (9) 12
The Sharks overcame terrible weather and a red card to secure a hard-fought 13-12 win over the Vodacom Blue Bulls at Mr Price Kings Park on Friday.
Heavy rain in the build-up to the match meant that the Sharks re-jigged their starting line-up while the conditions, with rain continuing to fall throughout the contest, meant that tactical kicking was the order of the day, especially from the Blue Bulls.
The Sharks held a 13-9 lead with 10 minutes to play but they were put under pressure when hooker Pieter Dixon was red-carded in the 70th minute for a kick to the head of Blue Bulls flank Arno Botha and Louis Fouchè kicked the resulting penalty to make it a one-point game.
Despite being a man down the Sharks defended manfully to carve out the win, and, considering the conditions, it was no surprise when the opening score came from a scruffy, 23-metre drop goal courtesy of Fouchè in the third minute.
The conditions were making for a scrappy encounter with both teams guilty of knocking-on at regular intervals but the Sharks finally grabbed the first try of the match, in the 21st minute, when left wing Paul Jordaan ripped a ball clear from a maul to gallop 40 metres before sliding over.
But the Blue Bulls regained the lead eight minutes later thanks to a Fouchè penalty before the pivot ensured that his team went to the break with a handy lead, considering the conditions, with his second penalty on the stroke of halftime.
The Sharks were their own worst enemy in the first half as they conceded five penalties to none but they made a wonderful start to the second half when scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and eighthman Keegan Daniel combined for a superb try.
Reinach broke from a lineout on the halfway line before popping a pass to Daniel who showed pace and strength to muscle his way over in the right-hand corner for an unconverted score.
Centre Meyer Bosman extended the lead with a long-range penalty in the 54th minute as the Sharks started to take control of the match.
Sharks – Tries: Paul Jordaan, Keegan Daniel. Penalty: Meyer Bosman.
Blue Bulls – Penalties: Louis Fouchè (3). Drop goal: Fouchè.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs (17) 35 GWK Griquas (6) 20
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs held off a spirited second-half fightback from GWK Griquas to win a fierce local derby 35-20 at the Free State Stadium on Saturday.
First-half scores by Ross Geldenhuys and Robert Ebersohn gave the hosts a comfortable lead at the break, but the visitors hit back with tries of their own by Marnus Schoeman and Jannie Boshoff, which helped level the scores at 20-20 late on.
But Hennie Daniller went over 10 minutes from time and Raymond Rhule scored after the hooter to secure a vital fourth bonus-point try that lifted the Cheetahs from bottom to fourth place on the log.
Griquas are second bottom, but they can be pleased with the determination they showed in the second half.
The opening try arrived in the ninth minute after some patient build-up play by the hosts, which included 10 phases, with prop Geldenhuys, aided by Philip van der Walt, barging his way over on the left.
Griquas were reduced to 14 men in the 22nd minute when Willie le Roux was shown a yellow card and seconds later it was Ebersohn who went over for a try under the posts after Rhule drew two men.
Nico Scheepers and Brummer traded kicks to leave Griquas trailing by 11 points. The men from Kimberley landed their reward in the 52nd minute when they boldly opted to set up a line-out instead of taking the three points.
Once the ball was brought down, Schoeman seemed to bounce off four players before his sheer determination saw him stretch over the line.
The gap was four points at that stage, although Scheepers took it back to seven with a penalty straight after. The visitors drew level via a converted Boshoff try on the hour but Scheepers, who kicked 15 points in total, put Naka Drotske’s men ahead with a penalty from 40 metres.
Victory was then sealed when Daniller picked up a low pass superbly at his heels wide on the left and went over – JP Nel picking up a yellow card in the build-up for a high tackle on Rhule.
Rhule himself went over at the death to cap a crucial win for the Cheetahs.
Cheetahs – Tries: Ross Geldenhuys, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Hennie Daniller. Conversions: Nico Scheepers (3). Penalties: Scheepers (3).
Griquas – Tries: Marnus Schoeman, Jannie Boshoff. Conversions: Francois Brummer (2). Penalties: Brummer (2).
DHL Western Province (3) 9 MTN Golden Lions (6) 22
The MTN Golden Lions returned to the top of the standings with a battling 22-9 win over DHL Western Province at Newlands on Saturday.
The Gautengers were full value for the win as they scored the only try of the match while veteran flyhalf Butch James kicked four penalties and a conversion and generally controlled the game with some fine tactical kicking.
The visitors opened the scoring through a James penalty in the third minute but Pietersen levelled matters with a 35-metre penalty in the 24th.
Tries might have been at a premium but there was no doubt about the commitment from both teams with Province and the Lions competing manfully on defence and in the set phases.
Just as it looked as if the two teams would go to the break level pegging, James stepped up and slotted a close-range penalty in the 38th minute to give the Lions a slim lead.
The hosts levelled matters in the 48th minute through a Catrakilis penalty, after James received a yellow card for a high tackle on Province centre Marcel Brache.
Despite being a man down the Lions regained the lead five minutes later when left wing Ruan Combrinck slotted a penalty.
Province then camped on the Lions’ tryline and even turned down a kickable penalty in favour of a quick tap five metres from the Lions’ tryline but the visitors rose manfully to the challenge and their defence held out until James returned from the sin-bin.
The Lions finally grabbed the first try of the contest, in the 65th minute, when right wing Deon Helberg intercepted a loose pass from Province lock De Kock Steenkamp on the halfway line to gallop clear for a converted score.
James rammed home the Lions’ advantage with a penalty eight minutes from time.
WP – Penalties: Demetri Catrakilis (2), Joe Pietersen.
Lions – Try: Deon Helberg. Conversion: Butch James. Penalties: James (4), Ruan Combrinck.