There is plenty at stake in the penultimate round of Absa Currie Cup Premier Division action as all six teams look to either seal a semi-final place or ensure they avoid a dreaded season-ending promotion-relegation match against the First Division champions.
With just two rounds remaining, no team is guaranteed of a home semi-final, only log-leaders the MTN Golden Lions are assured of a place in the final four, and only the Lions and Sharks are safe in the knowledge that they cannot finish last, whatever the results of the remaining fixtures.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls go into their match against arch-rivals DHL Western Province in Pretoria on Friday night knowing that a defeat without any bonus points, coupled with a bonus-point win for GWK Griquas and a victory for the Toyota Free State Cheetahs, may condemn them to the wooden spoon and the possibility of playing First Division rugby next season.
The Blue Bulls currently have 14 points, one behind Griquas – who host the Lions in Kimberley on Saturday afternoon – and three adrift of the Cheetahs, who too have the luxury of a home game when they welcome the Sharks to Bloemfontein later that evening.
But despite being bottom of the log, the Blue Bulls are by far not the only team in danger, as even third-placed WP, with 20 points, could yet end up propping up the table should a combination of results conspire against them.
All of which makes for an intriguing final two rounds – and that's not even taking into account the equally important and equally interesting race at the top of the table for lucrative home semi-final places.
Victory for the Lions, on 28 points, in Kimberley on Saturday will book them one of those slots, with the second-placed Sharks, three behind on 25, and WP, on 20, having the inside track for the other home semi – although the Cheetahs are by no means out of the running if they manage victories in their last two games.
Vodacom Blue Bulls flyhalf Louis Fouché tops the Premier Division point-scoring log after Round 8, with 114 points made up of 12 conversions, 28 penalties and 2 drop goals. Behind Fouché in tied second place on 94 are Sharks centre Meyer Bosman and WP flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis.
Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule tops the try-scoring table after Round 8 with six touchdowns, with Blue Bulls loose forward CJ Stander, Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane and Griquas wing Rocco Jansen in a three-way tie for second place, with five tries apiece.
This weekend's Round 9 fixtures:
Vodacom Blue Bulls vs DHL Western Province
Date: Friday, 5 October
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistants: Tiaan Jonker, Pieter de Villiers
Television Match Official: JC Fortuin
Last meeting: 1 September in Cape Town (First round): WP won 42-6
GWK Griquas vs MTN Golden Lions
Date: Saturday, 6 October
Venue: GWK Park, Kimberley
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Assistants: Marius van der Westhuizen, Francois de Bruin
Television Match Official: Deon van Blommenstein
Last meeting: 31 August in Johannesburg (First round): Griquas won 42-32
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs Sharks
Date: Saturday, 6 October
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistants: Joey Salmans, Marc van Zyl
Television Match Official: Gerrie Coetzee
Last meeting: 1 September in Durban (First round): Sharks won 34-32