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Despite the unpredictability of play-offs due to the pressures of knock-out matches, the Xerox Golden Lions XV will be starting favourites in the first SuperSport Rugby Challenge quarter-final match of the weekend, when they face the Steval Pumas at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday (kick-off at 14h00).

The home ground advantage will be a factor and the Johannesburgers have shown a real desire for winning matches, having lost only once in eight starts. They have the best points differential by far in the competition, despite playing in the very competitive North Section, having scored 485 points and only conceding 208 for a points’ difference of 277.

To be fair to the Steval Pumas though, they have been pretty productive on attack as well and combining that with a strong defence, conceded only 27 tries in eight matches. But the fact that the Xerox Golden Lions XV won both encounters between the sides this year (40-29 in KaNyamazane and 35-25 at Emirates Airline Park) will make them slight favourites to make it three in a row.

The second clash on Saturday, which kicks off at 15h00, promises to be pretty entertaining as well. Tafel Lager Griquas only lost their opening match of the season and is on a hot winning streak at the moment. They face the EP Kings, who are also getting into a good rhythm at the right time, in Kimberley.

The home side will have Tafel Lager Park as an ally, but the men from Port Elizabeth are used to performing away from home, as they showed last weekend when they outplayed Boland in Bredasdorp to clinch second place in the South Section.

Sunday will see four teams battling it out at the Green Point Track, with another Rugby Festival taking the tournament to the doorstep of Cape Town’s rugby communities. After the traditional club match, where locals, SK Walmers host Belhar, the Vodacom Blue Bulls and Cell C Sharks XV will do battle in what promises to be one of the matches of the tournament (kick-off at 12h45).

The Durbanites have the best defence in the tournament, only conceding 19 tries in eight matches and the challenge to the men from Pretoria will be how to break down that defence.

The Vodacom Blue Bulls have scored 53 tries though, the second most in the tournament, so they will back their attack to secure the result. Six of those tries came from Boom Prinsloo, who has been a stand-out for the team since he joined them from Bloemfontein earlier this season.

The final match will be at 15h15 between DHL Western Province and Toyota Free State XV, who sneaked into the final play-off spot with the narrowest of margins.

The unbeaten home team will have to be on high alert though, as the team from Bloemfontein picked up enough steam after a slow start to make it into the final eight. They also have a sharp-shooter in the form of outside back, Marco Mason, who has contributed 79 points to his side’s tally.

DHL WP have scored 46 tries at an average of just over seven per game, so attack will again be their main purpose and with an expected full house, could just provide the highlight of the weekend.

Selected Stats:
Leading points’ scorer:
Shaun Reynolds (Xerox Golden Lions) – 119
Leading try scorer:
Craig Barry (DHL Western Province) – 8
Most tries after regulation play:
Xerox Golden Lions XV – 69
Least tries conceded after regulation play:
Cell C Sharks XV – 19

The quarter-final fixtures are:

Saturday, 1 July:

Xerox Golden Lions XV vs Steval Pumas
Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 14h00
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge

Tafel Lager Griquas vs Eastern Province
Tafel Lager Park, Kimberley
Kick-off: 15h00
Referee: AJ Jacobs

Sunday, 2 July:

SK Walmers vs Belhar
Green Point Track, Cape Town
Referee: Ruhan Meiring
Kick-off: 10h30

Cell C Sharks XV vs Vodacom Blue Bulls
Green Point Track, Cape Town
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Kick-off: 12h45

DHL Western Province vs Toyota Free State XV
Green Point Track, Cape Town
Referee: Pro Legoete
Kick-off: 15h15

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