Preview: WP v Free State Cheetahs
Only a win will do for Western Province when they take on the Free State Cheetahs in Saturday's Currie Cup clash at Newlands.
In an unprecedented scenario, Western Province - currently in third - could find themselves last on the six-team log by the end of the weekend should they lose at home to Free State and the results of the other two matches conspire against them.
Only two points separate WP (20) and the bottom-placed Blue Bulls (18) heading into the final round. And such is the range of permutations that not even a win for the Blue Bulls, or the fifth-placed Cheetahs for that matter, will guarantee that they don't finish last.
With it being the final league fixture, the margin between winning and losing is huge for both sides. A victory could secure a place in the semi-finals while defeat could mean that the losers find themselves in a battle to avoid relegation.
Both sides have been boosted by the return of their Springboks, but WP hold a phsychological edge over their opponents as they have seven internationals returning after participating in the Rugby Championship whereas the Cheetahs only have two.
"Promotion/relegation has never been a part of the WP vocabulary, and the Boks know full well that they have a responsibility to get Province into the semi-final," said WP coach Allister Coetzee.
"The Boks share our ambitions and they're all eager to throw their weight behind the Province cause.
"We had to use youngsters and we've had loads of injuries, and we're pleased that the players who carried the campaign in the absence of the Boks did well to give us a chance to make the semis."
Coetzee and his charges were heavily criticised during the Super Rugby tournament when, as the Stormers, they opted for a more defensive approach and it will be interesting to see how the returning Boks adapt to WP's expansive style of play which they have adopted in the Currie Cup.
The Cheetahs are always a threat on attack but throughout the season they have also conceded plenty of points. They seem to have a philosophy which indicates that they always back themselves to score more points than their opponents and that approach could be their undoing against a side like WP, who have the best defensive record in the tournament.
In the previous clash between these sides WP ran out 29-22 winners in the Cheetahs' backyard so the boys from Bloemfontein will have extra motivation to turn the tables on their hosts.
Prediction: The return of WP's Springboks will strengthen them significantly and they should win this encounter. It will not be easy, however, as the Cheetahs have proven to be competitive throughout this year's competition.Western Province by six points!
Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Brok Harris, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Marcel Brache, 22 Gio Aplon.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Francois Uys, 6 Hendro Scholtz, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Philip Snyman, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan