Jan de Koning looks at all the weekend's action
It may be tight at the top, but for at least two teams the halfway stage of the Currie Cup competition could be their proverbial 'crossing of the Rubicon'.
The last-placed Blue Bull and second-from-bottom Griquas (ahead by a mere two points on points difference) will need to show a new sense of urgency if they are to remain in touch with the leading pack.
At the top the picture looks vastly different.
The Sharks, on 14 points, are just two ahead of the Free State Cheetahs and unbeaten Western Province. The Golden Lions are a further three points adrift, but still within one win of the pace setters.
The the weekend's matches are all played on Saturday - Griquas taking on the Golden Lions in Kimberley, the Blue Bulls hosting the Free State Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld and Western Province at home to the Sharks in Cape Town.
Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Five action!
Saturday, September 7
Griquas v Golden Lions
(GWK Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 15.00, 13.00 GMT)
In Kimberley you will see two teams who put a higher premium on attack than defence and given the conditions - a bone-dry pitch and the temperatures in the mid- to higher 20s - we may be in for a real try-fest.
Griquas are determined to bounce back from three consecutive defeats and get their campaign back on track, but they will not stray too far from their ball-in-hand approach.
There is certainly no chance of the home team going 'conservative' to get that much-needed 'W'.
"That, playing with the ball in hand, is our strength and what made us so dangerous and effective in the past," coach Pote Human told this website, when asked about their misfiring expansive game - which has seen them cough up 10 tries in four starts.
The Kimberley outfit has not scored more than two tries in any match in the competition, despite their stated desire to run the opposition ragged.
"This season, in the Currie Cup, we have not achieved the same standards and we hope to pull it off on Saturday," he said.
The Golden Lions have been far more successful in pulling of an attacking game and top the try-scoring stakes with 18 touchdowns in their four matches - five better than the next best side, the Free State Cheetahs.
However, their porous defence has seen them let in 13 tries, which also contributed to their two defeats.
Human is well aware of the Lions' backline threats.
"We will have to remain focussed for 80 minutes," the Griquas coach said, adding: "They do attack from anywhere.
"They have backs and forwards who can break the line and when they achieve that you are in trouble.
"Our defence will have to be very effective."
Griquas' biggest problem is their depleted second row resources, a lock crisis which deepened due to the loss of Springbok Hilton Lobberts (fractured arm) and Australian lock Rory Arnold being suspended for biting an opponent last week.
Human has drafted in Pukke captain Victor Kruger from the Leopards, alongside another rookie lock in Patrick O'Brien (recruited from the Western Province club scene), while Despatch lock Dalton Davis will play off the bench.
There is no doubt the Lions are expected to dominate the set pieces - both line-outs and scrums.
2012: Griquas won 37-21, Kimberley
2012: Griquas won 42-32, Johannesburg
2011: Golden Lions won 41-25, Johannesburg
2011: Golden Lions won 49-11, Kimberley
2010: Golden Lions won 40-29, Johannesburg
2010: Griquas won 26-20, Kimberley
Prediction: In order to execute their expansive game, Griquas will need quality set-piece possession and given their injury crisis they may just lack the quality and composure. The Lions pack could dominate and give their backs the advantage. The Golden Lions to win by about 15 points.
Griquas: 15 PJ Vermeulen, 14 Richard Lawson, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Burger Schoeman, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Victor Kruger, 4 Patrick O'Brien, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Dalton Davis, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 JP Nel.
Golden Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Andries Coetzee, 13 Robert De Bruyn, 12 Dylan Des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Derick Minnie (captain), 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Ruan Venter, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 JJ Breedt, 19 Warwick Tecklenberg, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Deon Helberg, 22 Ruhan Nel.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistant Referees: Lusanda Jam and Nico Smal
TMO: Johan Greeff
Blue Bulls v Free State Cheetahs
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 17.05, 15.05 GMT)
The Blue Bulls, after a promising start when they drew with Western Province at Newlands in Week One, seem to have hit the slippery slope of mediocrity.
Even their Round Two win over Griquas failed to convince their detractors the Bulls are genuine contenders for overall honours.
They are up against a Cheetahs team that is beginning to find some serious attacking form - epitomised in the three-try (19-point) blitz late in the first half of their 40-20 drubbing of Griquas last week.
Bulls coach Pine Pienaar is well aware of the monumental task awaiting his side at home on Saturday.
" The Cheetahs are always a tough hurdle in the Currie Cup competition," Pienaar told this website, adding: "They don't usually have a lot of players out and in the Springbok team. They retain the core of the team that played Super Rugby."
Pienaar said he felt the Cheetahs are one of the favourites in the competition.
"They are playing with a lot of confidence and know each other well.
"It is a huge challenge, but one that I am looking forward to."
The Bulls mentor said that for many of the players in their team this will be one of the biggest and most important games they will have played in their careers.
"I am looking forward to see how they cope with it [the pressure of the occasion] and what they can produce."
The irony of this game is that the Bulls, traditionally a more conservative team, have shown a willingness to be adventurous - even though execution has often let them down.
The Cheetahs, in contrast, have been working hard on improving their kicking and defensive games, while they are willing to employ a territory-base game at the expense of 'entertaining'.
"They have varied their game very well in Super Rugby and in the Currie Cup competition most of those structures have remained," Pienaar said.
"They do defend very well and that is one of the reasons they did so well in Super Rugby. They also ask more questions of your back three in terms of their kicking game - they do play the territory game more.
"The Cheetahs do have a more balanced game, where they have the ability to cut you apart with ball in hand, but can also put the ball in behind you with the boot.
"No doubt we will have to be on top of our game if we want any chance to win this."
2012: Blue Bulls won 34-30, Pretoria
2012: Free State Cheetahs won 32-18, Bloemfontein
2011: Free State Cheetahs and Blue Bulls drew 22-all, Bloemfontein
2011: Blue Bulls won 33-30, Pretoria
2010: Free State Cheetahs won 20-14, Bloemfontein
2010: Free State Cheetahs won 25-23, Pretoria
Prediction: You know the Blue Bulls can never be written off, given the quality of the game they produced in Week One against Western Province. However, it is difficult to see them upset a Free State Cheetahs team of this quality. The visitors have the experience and form and should take the points. The Cheetahs by about 10 points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Akona Ndungane, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Ulrich Beyers, 22 Clayton Blommetjies.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Teboho Mohoje, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant Referees: Marius Jonker and Cobus Wessels
TMO: Tappe Henning
Western Province v Sharks
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 19.10, 17.10 GMT)
Encounters between Western Province and the Sharks are often brutal clashes - mostly because they are teams of immense talent battling it out for top spot on the table.
This encounter should be no different.
First plays third and only two points separate them on the log.
Sharks forwards coach Brad Macleod-Henderson said they are looking forward to the latest chapter in the ongoing drama between the two coastal outfits.
"They are currently unbeaten [with two wins and two draws] and it should be another very good game," Macleod-Henderson told this website.
While the Sharks backline is expected to have an edge - with veteran Springbok flyhalf Butch James, earning his 50th Currie Cup cap in the No.10 jersey, up against young Western Province flyhalf Kurt Coleman - Macleod-Henderson warned that the home team has some serious strike power.
WP may have scored just 10 tries this season, but they do have some "fantastic" runners.
"Their back three are very exciting," the Sharks mentor said.
"They also have a big, strong pack.
"There is no doubt they will come at us from all fronts and we will have to be on top of our game."
Province captain Deon Fourie admitted there has been a level of frustration over their inability to turn opportunities into points.
"It has been very frustrating the way we have approached our second half without ball in hand and without getting our set-pieces right," he said of a a game against the Lions in which they held a 2--3 lead on the half-hour mark and were still 25-10 up at the break.
In the end they managed just two second-half penalties in a 31-all draw.
"That is the biggest thing that is creeping in in the second half - we are getting too conservative and we don't get our ball from first phase."
2012: Western Province won 25-18, Durban (Final)
2012: Sharks won 43-27, Durban
2012: Sharks won 25-23, Cape own
2011: Western Province won 15-10, Durban
2011: Sharks won 21-19, Cape Town
2010: Sharks won 30-10, Durban (Final)
2010: Western Province won 33-21, Cape Town
2010: Sharks won 27-16, Durban
Prediction: You know that Western Province have the ability to cut any team apart - they are, after all, the defending champions. However, they have been erratic this season. Perhaps this is the game where they regain the consistency that saw them end a decade-long trophy drought. However, the wise money is on a Sharks win - by less than 10 points.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Rohan Kitshoff, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sizo Maseko, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Butch James, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jacques Botes (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Danie Mienie.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen and Marc van Zyl
TMO: Deon van Blommestein