Preview: Currie Cup, Round 9
There are just two rounds of league matches left to play in this season's Currie Cup and each team can still qualify for the play-offs.
At the top of the table, the Golden Lions and Sharks are pulling away from the chasing pack and will try to clinch home semi-finals with away victories over Griquas and the Free State Cheetahs respectively on Saturday.
The latter match is the weekend's biggest clash as both sides are currently amongst the four sides in the play-off positions. The Cheetahs - who are in fourth spot - will be keen to cement or improve their position as Griquas and the Blue Bulls are trying hard to overtake them for the final play-off berth.
The weekend's action kicks off in Pretoria on Friday where traditional rivals the Blue Bulls - who are the bottom-placed team on the table - and third placed Western Province do battle.
Friday, 5 October: Blue Bulls v Western Province
Saturday, 6 October: Griquas v Golden Lions; Free State Cheetahs v Sharks
1. Golden Lions 28
2. Sharks 25
3. Western Province 20
4. Free State Cheetahs 17
5. Griquas 15
6. Blue Bulls 14
Blue Bulls v Western Province
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
This fixture between the tournament's most successful unions is usually filled with plenty of action and drama. There is nothing to suggest that this weekend's clash will be any different as both sides have plenty to play for.
Bulls coach Pine Pienaar is hoping the return of Springboks Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson from injury, and Dean Greyling, who is back from suspension, would help the struggling outfit find some late form.
"It is a significant time to have three Springboks back and the mood in the camp has been very upbeat since their arrival at training," he said.
"Bjorn is a match-winner and one of the best finishers in the game, while Chiliboy has proved a valuable asset to the team over the years."
Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter was looking to draw on the contributions of their reinforcements.
"I'm really pleased that these guys are back with all that experience which will help me a great deal in the leadership as well," he revealed.
"They have brought an energy to the team."
Province coach Allister Coetzee believed the Bulls, Currie Cup finalists seven times in the last 10 years, would come out fighting in an effort to escape the promotion-relegation play-offs.
"We know how desperate the Bulls are and that is going to make them extremely dangerous," he said.
"We are expecting nothing less than them approaching this game as if it is their most important match of the season.
"The situation they are in is not one they are used to and they are an extremely proud union."
Prediction: The Bulls are a proud union and tend to play better in front of their home supporters. WP will not go down without a fight though but the Bulls should win by five points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouchè, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Dewald Potgieter (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Mornè Mellett/Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Lionel Cronjè, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Damian de Allende, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Don Armand, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Helmut Lehmann, 20 JJ Gagiano, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Pat Howard.
Kick-off:19:00 (18:10 BST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Griquas v Golden Lions
GWK Stadium, Kimberley
Despite occupying the top spot in the standings, the Lions will approach this fixture with trepidation as Griquas have gained a reputation as giant-killers this season, especially when they are on their own turf.
The men from Kimberley have beaten the Sharks and Blue Bulls in their own backyard already in 2012 and also claimed a valuable 42-32 win over Johan Ackermann's troops in the corresponding fixture in Johannesburg earlier this season.
Griquas will fancy their chances of repeating that performance as their visitors will be without the services of back-line kingpins Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute and Lionel Mapoe who have all been called up to the Springboks' Rugby Championship squad.
But despite being without the services of such stalwarts, the Lions can still rely on veterans Butch James and Cobus Grobbelaar - who both impressed in the Johannesburg-based side's memorable 22-9 victory over WP in Cape Town last week - to take the challenge to Pote Human's side.
Both teams enjoy running the from all areas of the field but the danger of such a game-plan is that they tend to neglect their defensive duties so don't be surprised if this match turns into a high-scoring affair.
Griquas have plenty of flair in their back-line - where Willie le Roux and Rocco Jansen have impressed throughout their campaign - but it's the effort of their forwards which makes it possible for them to shine. Keep an eye on Marnus Schoeman and captain Ryno Barnes who have been playing well in recent weeks.
Prediction:It is difficult to predict a winner as Griquas have impressed at home this season but the Lions are striking form at the right time. It will be close but being without Jantjies, Taute and Mapoe will lead to the champions' downfall. Griquas to win by five points!
Griquas: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 JP Nel, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Schoeman, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Ligtoring Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (c), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Ivann Espag, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Jaco Nepgen, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Walter Venter.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Deon Van Rensburg, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Butch James, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco Van der Merwe, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse Van Rensburg (c).
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Derick Minnie, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Dylan Des Fountain, 22 James Kamana.
Kick-off:14:30 (13:30 BST, 12:20 GMT)
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Free State Cheetahs v Sharks
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
With the Lions facing a potential banana skin in Griquas, the Sharks will be aware that a win over the Cheetahs could see them regaining the top spot on the table at this crucial stage of the season.
They will also know, however, that the Cheetahs will not just allow them to rock up and claim the points as the hosts would like to upset their visitors and at least maintain their chances of clinching a home semi-final ahead of next week's final round of league matches.
Naka Drotske and his men are out for revenge as the Sharks launched an astonishing fightback to register a late win when these teams met in Durban earlier this season.
Trailing 21-6 at half-time, John Plumtree's side clinched a 34-32 win with a late try and conversion by Meyer Bosman.
These teams received mixed news in the build-up to this clash with the Sharks being boosted with the inclusion of Springbok wing JP Pietersen and the Cheetahs suffered a setback when their Bok flanker Heinrich Brussow was ruled out for six months with a shoulder injury.
Both those players have the ability to swing the result of a match with moments of brilliance so Brussow's unavailability could prove to be a telling factor.
Cheetahs speedster Raymond Rhule, has been moved back to the wing after impressing at outside centre in recent weeks. The Sharks will have to keep him in check as he is a threat on attack and is currently the tournament's leading try-scorer with eight touchdowns.
Prediction:Although the Cheetahs will be competitive, the Sharks have too much class across the park. That and the loss of Brussow will prove to be the hosts' undoing. Sharks to win by six points!
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn (c), 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Francois Uys, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Philip Snyman, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Meyer Bosman, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (capt), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandre Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Riaan Viljoen, 22 S'bura Sithole.
Kick-off:19:10 (18:10 BST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jason Jaftha