Currie Cup preview: Sharks v Griquas
The Currie Cup's final round of league matches takes place this weekend and all six teams are still in contention for a play-off berth.
The South African Rugby Union has to be commended for their decision to decrease the number of teams in the Premier Division from eight to six as it has certainly made the standard of play better.
There were much less one-sided encounters this year - something which was becoming a frequent occurrence when the tournament's stronger unions played against their less-fancied counterparts in previous seasons.
The return of the Springboks from Rugby Championship duty to their various unions is another factor which will raise the standard of play during this last round of fixtures.
The weekend's action kicks off on Friday when the table-topping Sharks host this season's surprise package, fourth-placed Griquas, at Kings Park in Durban.
Saturday sees Western Province hosting the Free State Cheetahs at Newlands in Cape Town and on the same day the Blue Bulls face their neighbours, the Lions, at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg.
Friday, 12 October
Sharks v Griquas
Saturday, 13 October
Western Province v Free State Cheetahs
Golden Lions v Blue Bulls
1. Sharks 30
2. Golden Lions 28
3. Western Province 20
4. Griquas 20
5. Free State Cheetahs 18
6. Blue Bulls 18
Sharks v Griquas
Kings Park Stadium, Durban
The Sharks will be grateful for the favour that Griquas did for them by beating the Golden Lions in Kimberley last week.
Griquas' 37-21 triumph over the champions meant that the Sharks moved to the top of the standings after their 37-30 victory over the Cheetahs and secures them a home final if they should win their semi-final which will also be in Durban.
John Plumtree's charges will, however, be out for revenge as they suffered a similar fate to the Lions when they lost the 22-15 to the tournament's underdogs in the corresponding fixture in Kimberley last month.
The hosts will thus be going all out to turn the tables on Pote Human's side and ensuring an easier path to a potential home final.
"We've put ourselves in a nice position, but we know how tough Griquas are," Plumtree said.
"They've knocked off almost everyone this year, so it's going to be a tough match.
"We've got a lot of respect for them. In the past we haven't had too much trouble with them, especially here in Durban, but we think this side's got a little bit more to them."
All eyes will be on Sharks pivot Patrick Lambie who after spending the Springboks' entire Rugby Championship campaign on the replacements bench finally makes a start in a competitive match.
Human's troops also have plenty at stake in this clash and a victory will secure them a place in the semi-finals.
Griquas enjoy running from all areas of the field and have two of the competition's most devastating counter-attackers in full-back Willie le Roux and left wing Rocco Jansen.
Prediction: Although the Sharks are not starting with all their returning Boks Plumtree's trump card could be his replacements bench which contains several seasoned internationals. If things don't go according to plan he will surely introduce them to the fray and this will prove the difference between the sides. Sharks to win by 12 points.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandre Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.
Griquas: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Walter Venter, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 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 Wesley Wilkins, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Richard Lawson.
Kick-off:19:10 (18:10 BST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper