Time for Tank Lanning to run the rule over the five matches making up the Rugby 5 bet this week ... and what an eclectic mix it is.
From the Griffons vs EP in the second round of the Currie Cup first division in front of perhaps 1000 people, to the final Test in a truly enthralling three match series between the Wallabies and the Lions in front of close on 85,000 people.
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
So a look at the weekend then...
M 1 - Australia vs British & Irish Lions
Well, no one can accuse Lions coach Warren Gatland of being sentimental. The controversial omission of Brian O'Driscoll from the side for Saturday's third and decisive Test against Australia in Sydney was done for sound rugby reasons, says Gatland: "I can honestly say it's the right rugby decision." Which sees fit-again battering ram Jamie Roberts team up with Wales centre partner Jonathan Davies, with England's Manu Tuilagi providing cover from the bench. Not much finesse there then. This while Wallabies coach, Robbie Deans has handed 110-Test veteran George Smith a starting place ahead of Michael Hooper. It's not like the series needed any further PR, but these 2 selections have certainly added spice to what has been a magnificent rugby event, and I have absolutely no doubt that this final Test will do down to the wire in the exact fashion that the first two Tests did. The only one other change to the Wallabies' squad sees loose forward Ben McCalman replacing centre Rob Horne on the bench, meaning Deans will only have two backline players to call upon on his bench, Nick Phipps and Jesse Mogg. And with the abrasive Mike Phillips back at scrummie for the Lions, this all points to the game being a brutally physical encounter. Kurtley Beale can only be better than he was last week - and I think the Smith selection will be a masterstroke. Like Eddie Jones says: "The Lions are bringing guys back that haven't played much rugby, they'll be pretty combative for 50 or 60 minutes but Australia will have too much for them."
My Rugby5 pick: 1
M 2 - Cheetahs vs Blues
Beat the Blues with a bonus-point and the Cheetahs could host a play-off on 55 points, but they would need the Reds and Crusaders to lose all their final games. Lose to the Blues without a bonus point and they could be out the mix completely on 50 points. On 44 points, the Blues probably need to beat both the Cheetahs and Chiefs with bonus points to sneak a quarter final. Talk about a knockout match. Both sides were pretty badly out of kilter in respective losses to the Stormers and Sharks last week, the Cheetahs more so in the face of a powerful Stormers line-out and in your face defence. There will be less of that against the Blues, but much more potency out wide in the form of Charles Piutau, Frank Halai and Rene Ranger. Achieve some sort of parity up front and it could be an explosion of skill, pace and power as the likes of Willie le Roux, Johann Sadie, and Robert Ebersohn go head to head with those three. The crux question will be how both sides will react to the pressure of it being a knockout mach. Go into their shells, a little bit like the Cheetahs did last week, and they lose the fundamental asset that got them to where they are in the standings right now.
My Rugby5 pick: 1
M 3 - Griffons vs EP
The clash in Welkom is expected to be tightly contested, with both teams showing encouraging signs in attack and defence last week's first round of Currie Cup 1st division action. EP, obviously struggling given that they are the only team in the division with their older brothers playing Super Rugby, in particular, will take heart from the fact that they made the Pumas work hard for their 29-13 victory despite the absence of their top players, and that will motivate them this week. The visitors, however, will have to improve their discipline, especially at the rucks, as in fly-half Louis Strydom, the Griffons have a serious sharp shooter. The Valke had edged into a three-point lead in the 68th minute last week and must have thought that they had done enough to secure a win. But Strydom showed plenty of composure to slot a 79th-minute penalty to ensure that the spoils were shared.
My Rugby5 pick: 1 and 4
M 4 - Kings vs Stormers
Win both their remaining games against the Kings and Bulls with bonus points to go to 52 points, and the Stormers could sneak an away quarter final if the Crusaders, Cheetahs, and Blues lose all their games, and the Sharks one of theirs. Lose just one game and they are gone. So the visitors, after arguably their best performance of the tournament last week against the Cheetahs, are quite literally playing for their mathematical lives, with a four-try bonus point an obvious objective, no matter how vehemently coach Allister Coetzee denies it. But those have been very scarce for the Stormers of late. And while the Kings may leak the post points per game (33.4 to the Stormers rather stingy 20.3), they are not shy to score a few points, with their average of 19.6 points per game only being a smidgen less than the Stormers 23.3. Play for the bonus point, and they could find themselves hacking to actually win the match, a bit like the Boks against Scotland at Mbombela. But it has been a long season for the Kings, fuelled mostly on passion, guts and team spirit, but with the worst record in the tournament in terms of carries and metres made with ball in hand, and their eye simply has to be on remaining intact for their playoff games against the Lions. I think this will be about how much, rather than who wins.
My Rugby5 pick: 5
M 5 - Bulls vs Sharks
Icing on the cake, cherry on top, pudding page of the newspaper...No matter what you call it, this will be one feisty finish to the weekend. The Bulls can top the Super Rugby log by winning both their last 2 games against the Sharks and Stormers if the Chiefs lose one of theirs. Lose both games without a bonus point of sorts, though, and they will be relying on the new tournament structure to get them third place as the top SA team. The Sharks, much like the Stormers, need to win both their remaining games against the Bulls and Kings, with bonus points, to go to 52 points, to stand a chance of sneaking an away play-off if the Crusaders, Cheetahs and Blues lose all their games. Lose one game and they are gone. All the Boks are back, meaning Morne Steyn and JJ Engelbrecht (who has been truly magnificent in partnership with Jan Serfontein) start for the Bulls, while the mighty Bismarck is back to form an all Bok front-row for the Sharks. It is no surprise, thus, that coach Frans Ludeke has gone with two props on the bench to try and counter the Sharks juggernaut forward pack, which now also includes the monstrous Willem Alberts. Having leaked the least points per game (19.4), it will be the Sharks defence against the Bulls attack, given that they top the conference with an average 28.2 points scored per game. Pat Lambie was well off his game last weekend against the Blues, and if the Bulls can just stay in the mix up front, it is the pairing of Francois Hougaard, back to his best last weekend, and Steyn, at half-back, that I think might sway it the home side's way.
My Rugby5 pick: 1