Time for Tank Lanning to run the rule over the five matches making up the Rugby 5 bet this week ...
Super Rugby is done and dusted, and with a week to go before the Rugby Championship begins, it is time for South Africa's oldest tournament to shine!
The Currie Cup really is a grand old dame, but true to form these days, the first weekend looks more like a mix of Varsity and Vodacom Cup as the provinces come to terms of playing without their Boks and players who have gone overseas. Quite fun in terms of looking at young talent, but not so good for predicting match outcomes!
So a look at the weekend then...
M1 - EP vs Border
The Pumas and Leopards dominate the Currie Cup First Division, but EP remain hot on their heels after thumping the Valke 44-18 in Brakpan last weekend.
This while the Leopards outplayed Border 26-10 in East London. Thinking they might be impaired by their big brother's shenanigans at Ellis Park, I thought EP might get a little derailed in the First Division.
Anything but, and now with the promotion/relegation matches over, EP will be able to focus fully on their bid to get to the premier division.
The team will once again be captained by Mpho Mbiyozo, who played his fiftieth match for EP last week, where he also secured a hat trick of tries, while Sergeal Petersen, Siyanda Grey and Tiger Mangweni all return to the field. Border, currently bottom of the log having won only 1 match, will be up against it in PE this weekend.
My Rugby 5 pick: 2
M2 - Sharks vs Griquas
Past results and stats count for little at the start of a new season, but one cannot argue the fact that Griquas - the only side in the competition that is not a fully-fledged Super Rugby franchise - while on the up and able to beat any of the 5 sides on their day, have been bottom feeders in the strength vs strength version of the tournament.
Last year they came 5th, and in the last 7 years they have come no higher than 5th or 6th in the tournament. Notorious for starting well, and able to cause big upsets, they just do not have the depth to follow through.
But this is game one of the season, and with two Springbok forwards, prop Lourens Adriaanse and lock Hilton Lobberts, in their ranks, they will be as confident as any team of causing an upset against a Sharks team now being guided by Brendan Venter. Even at Kings Park. But it is a tall order with only a handful of players back from the Cheetahs after the Super Rugby season.
Especially against a side that topped the Currie Cup log last year, and were a little unfortunate to lose out to Western Province in the final.
With the likes of Craig Burden, Tera Mtembu, and Cobus Reinach only able to make the Sharks bench, and plenty Springboks amongst the starting XV including captain Keegan Daniel and flyhalf Butch James, I see the game being close for the first half, but then the Sharks coming good at home in the second half.
My Rugby 5 pick: 1
M3 - Pumas vs Valke
Pumas - top of the log after winning all 6 of their matches this year. Valke - third from the bottom of the log after winning just 1 of the 6 matches they have played this year.
The Pumas, playing at home this weekend, continued their dominance in the Currie Cup First Division last weekend with another stunning display of rugby, for a 35-5 victory against Boland in Wellington, with the team being rewarded with five tries for their dominant attack.
This while the Valke lost 18-44 against EP at home last weekend. Flyhalf Carl Bezuidenhout continued his fine performance in open play against Boland, showing nimble hands to get his backline away, and I see him causing further damage this week against the Valke.
My Rugby 5 pick: 2
M4 - Lions vs Cheetahs
Oh how things have changed! Last year the Lions were desperately unlucky to lose to Western Province in the Currie Cup semi-final after ending second on the log, while the Cheetahs were only able to win three games in the tournament and ended below the Griquas on the log.
A mere 9 months later and the Cheetahs have recently played in a Super Rugby quarter final while the Lions have had to scrape their way back into Super Rugby via 2 tough physical games against the Kings over the last 2 weeks.
The Cheetahs have lost an entire front row, though, and massive game influencers in Heinrich Brussow and Willie le Roux, yet still manage to have Springbok Piet van Zyl on the bench, perhaps an indication of the depth they have now built in Bloemfontein.
This while the Lions contemplate life after skipper and scrumming sensation JC Janse van Rensberg, who has gone to play in France, and with flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff at the helm, having dropped Elton Jantjies to the bench.
How will the Lions cope with a return to a this time empty Ellis Park after the high of getting back into Super Rugby at a packed stadium last week? I think reality will bite.
My Rugby 5 pick: 4
M5 - WP vs Blue Bulls
Mere weeks after the Stormers hammered the Bulls at Newlands to put pay to the visitors hopes of hosting a Super Rugby final, and to my mind, any hope of taking home the silverware, so the two sides met again at the same venue, as WP and the Blue Bulls. Is there any evidence to suggest a different outcome?
Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen did not play in that game, so WP will miss Bryan Habana, Jean de Villers and Juan de Jongh, with the big blow being the centre pairing. But on the other side of the field, the Bulls miss not only their centre pairing of Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht, but also half backs Jano Vermaak, Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn.
WP are also defending champions, and while without doubt a little lucky to carry that mantle, they certainly looked to embrace a more attacking game plan in the Currie Cup last year. And with the likes of the electric Cheslin Kolbe and Gio Aplon out wide, a similar game plan might see this home side explode onto the Currie Cup scene.
Captained for the first time ever in the Currie Cup by an English speaking player, this Bulls side looks a tad experimental, and might take some time to find their feet.
My Rugby 5 pick: 1
Each Rugby 5 bet comprises five matches, which are labelled M1 to M5. In each match the home team is shown as Team A and the other as Team B, and you must predict the results of all five matches using one of the following five result options:
1 = Team A to win by difference of 1 to 12 points (say 7-3, 10-9, 24-12 etc)
2 = Team A to win by difference of 13 points or more (say 19-6, 20-3, 32-6 etc)
3 = Draw
4 = Team B to win by difference of 1 to 12 points
5 = Team B to win by difference of 13 points or more