With the Bulls virtually assured of finishing in top spot on the Currie Cup log it has become a four-team race for the remaining three playoff positions.
The Bulls lead the way with 32 points and they are followed by the Sharks on 24, Western Province on 21, the Lions on 20 and the Cheetahs on 17, who have a game in hand.
And, the Bulls could cement their place at the top even further with another win this weekend, against the Sharks in Durban, while Province could leap-frog the Sharks into second spot with an expected win against the depleted Pumas at Newlands on Friday.
The other big match this weekend is in Bloemfontein between the Cheetahs and the Lions.
With only seven points separating teams two to five on the log, there’s a lot at stake each weekend and for a team like Province it now becomes vital to turn narrow losses into victories.
Province flyhalf Tim Swiel admitted the last two weeks’ defeats against the Bulls and the Lions came as shocks to the system.
“The Bulls game especially knocked us, losing in the last few minutes,” said Swiel. “The last two weeks haven’t been good in terms of results, but in terms of stats we have dominated in a lot of areas.
“But we haven’t been able to pull it together in an 80-minute performance,” he said. “The guys though have spoken about the disappointments and also of the Newlands farewell and we will keep pushing for that home semifinal.”
Swiel is expected to continue at flyhalf for the time being, with Damian Willemse at fullback, following the long-term injury suffered by Warrick Gelant.
The injury concerns after the loss to the Lions include prop Neethling Fouche (concussion) and Seabelo Senatla (knee).
On the good news front, hooker Bongi Mbonambi and Scarra Ntubeni should be ready after being on the end of hard knocks last weekend, while lock Salmaan Moerat and No 8 Juarno Augustus should recover from concussion scares.
“We could’ve been quite negative after dropping two close games,” said Swiel, “but we’ve got another opportunity this weekend. It’s been a real positive return to the training ground this week.”
After Friday’s game against the Pumas, Province will enjoy a bye, followed by a Boxing Day match on 26 December against Griquas at Newlands.