The Vodacom Blue Bulls this past weekend worked themselves into a comfortable position to finish the round-robin stages of the Absa Under-19 Provincial Championship as the top team as they delivered another scintillating performance to maintain their unbeaten run.
The Pretoria team now needs only four log points to cement their position as the best team in the pool stages.
Should the trailing Sharks and MTN Golden Lions suffer a defeat in their remaining matches, however, the Blue Bulls will be guaranteed No1 spot.
Lower down on the log, the Sharks, Lions, Leopards and DHL Western Province will battle it out for the other three semifinal berths, although the Toyota Free State also have a mathematical chance of finishing in the top four.
The Durban and Johannesburg teams, meanwhile, are expected to go head-to-head for the other home semifinal.
With the fourth-placed Leopards trailing the third-placed Lions by five points with two matches remaining and Western Province 10 points behind with three matches to play, the teams will be wary of the fact that a slip-up could deal a big blow to their hopes of a semifinal place.
In an exciting weekend, the Sharks pipped Toyota Free State 26-22 in Durban, the Vodacom Blue Bulls outplayed Border 59-3 in Pretoria and the MTN Golden Lions defeated the Leopards 32-27 in Johannesburg.
Sharks 26 (18) Toyota Free State 22 (7)
In Durban three first-half tries by the hosts combined with a superb defensive effort allowed them to build up a promising 18-7 first-half lead against the Toyota Free State.
But the Bloemfontein side staged a strong second-half comeback in which they crossed the tryline twice, which resulted in a tense second half.
The Sharks, however, dashed their hopes of a victory as they increased their try tally to four, while flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis added his second penalty of the day to edge the team into the lead.
Despite being a close match, the bonus point for four tries allowed the Sharks to stretch their lead over the third-placed Lions on the log to two points.
Sharks 26 (18) – Tries: Hendrik Botha, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Nkululeko Marwana, Wion Robbertse. Penalties: Du Plessis (2).
Toyota Free State 22 (7) – Tries: Donavan Gissing, Jan Venter, Nicolaas Lee. Conversions: Pieter Jordaan, Warren Potgieter.
Vodacom Blue Bulls 59 (12) Border 3 (3)
In Pretoria, the Vodacom Blue Bulls overcame a tough first half against Border to outclass the East London team 59-3.
Border flyhalf Werner Barnard opened the scoring with a penalty in the third minute in what proved to be a tense first half, but tries by the home team’s Ngwako Ralepelle and Jacobus Wolmarans handed the hosts a 12-3 lead.
The home team, however, took control of the match in the second half as they asserted their authority in all aspects of the game.
This paved the way for the team to score two tries in four minutes shortly after play resumed, and a brace of four tries in the last 14 minutes.
With Border being forced to feed off the scraps, the side’s three points proved to be all they could gather in the 70 minutes.
Vodacom Blue Bulls 59 (12) – Tries: Arend Bannink (2), Christiaan van Dijk (2), Ganfried May, Jacobus Wolmarans, Ngwako Ralepelle, Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2). Conversions: Wolmarans (3), Leighton-Ras van Wyk (4).
Border 3 (3) – Penalty: Werner Barnard.
MTN Golden Lions 32 (14) Leopards 27 (15)
The clash between the MTN Golden Lions and the Leopards at Ellis Park proved to be gripping from the opening exchanges as both sides gave everything to improve their semifinal hopes.
Such was the tight nature of the match the Leopards took a narrow 15-14 lead at half time, as they out-scored the hosts two tries to one.
The hard grind continued in the second half, with both teams crossing the tryline twice as they attempted to make their presence felt on attack and defence.
But penalties at crucial times throughout the match cost the Leopards dearly, as Lions flyhalf Brandan Hewit slotted over four and Gabriel du Toit one, which handed the hosts a victory.
MTN Golden Lions 32 (14) – Tries: Koch Marx, Sikhumbuzo Mabuza, Victor Sekekete. Conversion: Gabriel du Toit. Penalties: Brandan Hewit (4), Du Toit.
Leopards 27 (15) – Tries: Blessing Makhayhu, Dean Stokes (2), Lloyd Dirk Greeff. Conversions: Lourens Boddington (2). Penalty: Boddington.