Currie Cup Preview: Round Seven
With the play-offs drawing ever closer, it is now becoming clearer which teams are the real heavyweight challengers of this season's Currie Cup competition.
Defending champions the Golden Lions and last year's runners-up, the Sharks, share top spot after wins over Free State Cheetahs and Western Province respectively last week. And Johan Ackermann's Lions will host the Sharks in a repeat of last year's final at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in the late game on Saturday.
Prior to that, the action kicks off in Cape Town where Western Province host Griquas. Following that clash, the teams occupying the bottom places in the standings - the Free State Cheetahs and the Blue Bulls - do battle in Pretoria.
After struggling during the initial stages, Griquas are currently the tournament's form team, with three successive wins, and amongst the contenders for a spot in the semis while WP will be smarting after losing to the Sharks last week.
With four rounds of matches remaining, the Cheetahs and the Bulls will be desperate to avoid another defeat if they want to reach the knockout stages.
Saturday, 22 September
Western Province v Griquas
Blue Bulls v Free State Cheetahs
Golden Lions v Sharks
1. Golden Lions 20
2. Sharks 20
3. Western Province 15
4. Griquas 15
5. Free State Cheetahs 11
6. Blue Bulls 9
Western Province v Griquas
Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
WP's players have plenty to prove after their humiliating defeat to the Sharks in Durban. Apart from their 43-27 loss, the men from the Cape finished that match with twelve men after receiving two reds and an one yellow card.
After beating the Golden Lions and the Sharks, the tournament's least-fancied team showed that those two results were not flukes when they thrashed the Blue Bulls in Kimberley last weekend.
Griquas' clinical display against their more fancied opponents was a fine display of running rugby and don't be surprised if they attempt a similar game-plan against Allister Coetzee's men.
Coetzee does not expect his opposition to deviate from their expansive style and has therefore picked a young pack that will be able to play a fast-paced game.
Keep an eye on their mobile front-row of Frans Malherbe, Scarra Ntubeni and Steven Kitshoff who have all impressed in recent weeks.
Coetzee expects them to make play a crucial role against Griquas.
"They're all young and run strongly with the ball," he said.
"They are equally mobile when called on for defence.
"They also played as a unit when we defeated Griquas in Kimberley earlier this season."
Prediction: With rain predicted for Cape Town, Griquas' fairytale run is about to come to an abrupt halt. WP to win by seven points!
Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Helmut Lehmann, 18 JJ Gagiano, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Damian de Allende.
Griquas: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Richard Lawson, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Walter Venter, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Wesley Wilkins, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Ligtoring Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (capt), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Ivann Espag, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Luzuko Vulindlu.
Kick-off:15:00 (14:00 BST, 13:00 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Berry
Blue Bulls v Free State Cheetahs
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Who would have thought that the Bulls and the Cheetahs - teams that have regularly been in the running for honours in recent years - would be involved in a basement battle of this competition?
Well, that is a reality for both teams and another defeat could prove catastrophic if either side want to make the play-offs.
Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter is aware of the situation and knows that his team cannot afford a slip-up this weekend.
"There are no second chances left," he said.
"We have to turn this season around and justify all the hard work that we put in and reward the faith that has been placed in us."
Despite their lowly position in the standings, Blue Bulls fly-half Louis Fouché is the leading points-scorer in the competition with 83 points from six matches.
The Cheetahs are in a less precarious position but know that defeat will mean that they trade places with their hosts on the table.
Playing at Loftus Versfeld is a daunting task for any side, but Naka Drotske's troops are always competitive and will fancy their chances against their opponents who have now gone three matches without a win.
A player who could make an impact for the visitors is SA U20 representative Raymond Rhule who is always dangerous on attack. Rhule has played on the wing in previous matches but will be at outside centre against the Bulls.
Prediction: The Bulls' returning Boks will prove to be the difference between winning and losing for the home side. Bulls to win by five points!
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Louis Fouchè, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Cornell Hess, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Lionel Cronjè, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Raymond Rhule, 12 Robert Ebersohn (c), 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Tewis de Bruyn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Marcell van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Sias Ebersohn, 21 Philip Snyman, 22 Andries Strauss.
Kick-off:17:05 (16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Golden Lions v Sharks
Coca-Cola Park Stadium, Johannesburg
Ellis Park is not a happy hunting ground for the Sharks. They suffered losses to the Lions in last year's final and in a Super Rugby match earlier this year and will be keen to reverse that trend.
The Sharks will take comfort from the fact that earlier this year they ran out 30-14 winners in Durban.
Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane is currently the competiton's joint top try-scorer with four tries along with Cheetahs speedster Rhule, Blue Bulls loose forward CJ Stander and Griquas wing Rocco Jansen.
After their surprise loss to Griquas three weeks ago, the Lions came back into contention by beating the Blue Bulls and Free State Cheetahs in successive matches.
Caretaker coach Johann Ackermann believes his side can continue where they left off against the Cheetahs last week.
"I am very proud of the guys so far and how they handled everything, the team spirit and how they rectified things over the last two weeks after the hiccup against Griquas," he said.
Ackermann, however, said the defending champions could not afford to drop their guard.
"The Currie Cup is quite open and quite close and everybody can beat everybody," he said.
Prediction: As with the Bulls, the Sharks will be boosted by their returning Boks but ulnlike the boys from Pretoria they will not be playing at home which is crucial at this stage of the season. Lions to win by three points!
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach/Jaco Taute, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willie Britz, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco Van der Merwe, 4 Michael Rhodes/Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (c).
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen/Ruan Botha, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Butch James, 22 Jaco Taute/Dylan des Fountain.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (capt), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Brynard Stander, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Paul Jordaan, 22 Sbura Sithole.
Kick-off:19:10 (18:10 BST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jason Jaftha