The Absa Under-21 Provincial Championship is expected to rise to a new level of competitiveness in the next few weeks as five teams battle it out for semifinal places with three rounds of pool matches remaining.
Log-leaders DHL Western Province are in pole position to secure a home semifinal and the top spot on the log as they boast an eight-point lead over the second-placed MTN Golden Lions, while the Lions, Vodacom Blue Bulls and Sharks are expected to battle it out for the other home semifinal.
Only one point separates the Lions from their Pretoria and Durban counterparts on the log with three matches to go, while Toyota Free State, who only have two games left, are only six points back in fifth position, meaning slip-ups by the Blue Bulls and Sharks could allow them to sneak into the top four.
These possibilities are expected to result in a tight finish to the round-robin stages.
In the weekend’s matches, the MTN Golden Lions defeated the Leopards 42-31 in Johannesburg, the Sharks thumped Toyota Free State 39-16 in Bloemfontein and the Vodacom Blue Bulls annihilated Border 70-19 in Pretoria.
MTN Golden Lions 42 (24) Leopards 31 (19)
The MTN Golden Lions overcame a tight first half against the Leopards at Ellis Park which featured a total of seven tries to register their sixth victory of the season.
The teams had accumulated three tries a piece by the 37th minute, but another try on the stroke of half time by the home team forced them into a 24-19 lead at the break.
The teams maintained their intensity in the second half and each added two tries to inflate their scores, but the Leopards conceded two penalties at crucial times, which Lions fullback Marais Schmidt slotted over to push the match out of reach for the visitors.
MTN Golden Lions 42 (24) – Tries: Nico du Plessis, Peter-John Walters, Ruaan Lerm, Stephan de Wit (3). Conversions: Marais Schmidt (3). Penalties: Schmidt (2)
Leopards 31 (19) – Tries: Adriaan Oosthuizen, Jaco Buys (2), Ryno Pienaar, Tiaan Loots. Conversions: Ryno Smith (3).
Toyota Free State 16 (6) Sharks 39 (15)
In Durban Toyota Free State put up a good fight against the dominant Sharks and limited the home side to only two tries and penalty in the first half, while the Niel Marais slotted over two penalties to open up the scoring for the home team.
But the Sharks lifted the tempo of their performance after the break and took control of the match, which allowed them to cross the tryline four more times.
The Free State, however, gave their all and managed to secure a try for their efforts to add to another penalty by Marais.
But this was not enough to stop the Sharks from securing a convincing victory.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 16 (6) – Try: Henco Venter. Conversion: Niel Marais. Penalties: Marais (3).
The Sharks 39 (15) – Tries: Garath Meikle, Guy Alexander, Johan Meyer, Sean Robinson, Wade Elliot, Wiehan Hay. Conversions: Duncan Campbell (2), Robert du Preez. Penalty: Du Preez.
Vodacom Blue Bulls 70 (28) Border 19 (0)
The Vodacom Blue Bulls dominated from the outset against Border as their solid attack and defence came together in an effective all-round display.
So impressive was their showing they ran in a total of 10 tries.
The Pretoria side built up a convincing 28-0 lead by the break and they continued to pile on the pressure in the second half to stretch their score to 70 points.
Despite the odds being stacked heavily against the East London side Border showed their fighting spirit by scoring three tries, two of which were converted, to salvage some pride.
Vodacom Blue Bulls 70 (28) – Tries: Christopher Bosch, Dries Swanepoel (2), Hencus van Wyk, Jacques Rossouw, Justin Forwood, Nardus van der Walt (2), Roelof Smith, Travis Ismaiel. Conversions: Kobus Marais (10).
Border 19 (0) – Tries: Hendri Rust, Jan Botha, Nicol du Plessis. Conversions: Rust (2).