Currie Cup preview: Round 4
Although the Currie Cup action is nearing the halfway stage, there is still no clear-cut favourite to take the honours in this year's tournament.
Judging from the previous rounds' action, one thing has become evident - predicting winners is not an easy task as all six teams are evenly matched and home ground advantage counts for little.
This was best illustrated in Pretoria last weekend where the Golden Lions upset their hosts, the Blue Bulls, and beat them by a 39-point margin.
The Lions get proceedings underway this weekend when they host the defending champions - and only unbeaten side left in this year's competition - Western Province in Johannesburg on Friday.
The action continues on Saturday when neighbours the Free State Cheetahs and Griquas do battle in Bloemfontein and the Blue Bulls face another daunting task against the Sharks in Durban.
Friday, 30 August
Golden Lions v Western Province
Saturday, 31 August
Free State Cheetahs v Griquas
Sharks v Blue Bulls
1. Western Province 10
2. Sharks 9
3. Cheetahs 7
4. Golden Lions 6
5. Griquas 6
6. Blue Bulls 6
Golden Lions v Western Province
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg
The home side are on a high after last weekend's 62-23 thrashing of the Blue Bulls and will look to continue where they left off against the champions this weekend.
The Lions can expect a closer encounter, however, as the holders are the only unbeaten side left in the competition. After drawing their opener against the Blue Bulls, the men from Cape Town have notched two narrow victories on successive weekends over the Cheetahs and Griquas respectively.
WP coach Allister Coetzee knows that despite his side's unbeaten record, they have not yet played to their potential. He expects the Lions to pose a threat on their own turf, especially after their recent win over the Blue Bulls.
"I thought the Lions were awesome against the Blue Bulls last week, you don't often go to Loftus and put 60 past the Bulls, but they played at a high tempo and will be a threat with their ball-in-hand approach," he said.
Lions boss Johan Ackermann praised his troops after that victory over the Bulls. It was their first win of the competition after they suffered losses to the Cheetahs and Sharks in their two previous matches.
Although the win came at the right time, Ackermann wants his charges to build on that result.
"At least it brought the log back...and there are positions up for grabs," he said.
"Whereas, if we'd lost and stayed on one point, it would have made it more difficult.
"One or two games (losses) and the whole thing can change again.
"It is a small relief but there is still a lot of work to do."
Prediction: This should be a fascinating battle between two sides with contrasting styles. The home side's expansive game-plan will get the better of their opponents' defence orientated patters. The Lions to win by five points!
Golden Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Robert De Bruyn, 12 Dylan Des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Guy Cronje, 8 Lambert Groenewald, 7 Derick Minnie (captain), 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Willie Britz, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 CJ van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 JJ Breet, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Andries Coetzee.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Rohan Kitshoff, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Tim Swiel, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Free State Cheetahs v Griquas
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Both sides will be desperate for victory after suffering narrow losses last weekend. The Cheetahs, in particular, would have done plenty of soul searching after their defeat to the Sharks.
This after they failed to score any points in the second half after leading their opponents 15-6 at half-time. The same scenario took place two weeks ago in their clash against Western Province in Cape Town when they held a 14-10 lead at the interval.
To his credit, Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske hasn't panicked and made only one change to his starting XV, bringing in Rossouw de Klerk for Caylib Oosthuizen.
This means that discarded Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane moves from tighthead prop to the loosehead side and Drotske expects the burly front-rower to make a huge impact against Griquas, after an impressive display against the Sharks.
"Trevor did very well against the Sharks and he showed that he wants to play rugby," Drotske said.
"His versatility is such a huge plus for the side. We look forward to another good performance by him."
Griquas are the competition's underdogs but they have done well to box above their weight against more fancied opponents. Last weekend they fought back well against Western Province - before losing by a point and their coach Pote Human knows they cannot afford another slip up.
"We missed out on the victory against Province, but we now target the Cheetahs as a game that we have to win," he said.
"If we can manage that, it would give us immense momentum for the rest of the competition."
Prediction: This match will be an entertaining affair as both sides will give the ball plenty of air. The hosts hold an advantage on defence, however. Cheetahs to win by 10 points!
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Teboho Mohoje, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 16 Wian du Preez, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Piet Lindeque
Griquas: 15 PJ Vermeulen, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 JP Nel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Burger Schoeman, 6 Carel Greeff, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Ryno Barnes (c), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Patrick O'Brien, 19 Marnus Schoeman, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 Richard Lawson.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Sharks v Blue Bulls
Kings Park Stadium, Durban
Two of South Africa's traditional powerhouses go head-to-head in what promises to be an explosive encounter. The Sharks have hit their straps with two successive wins - over the Golden Lions and Free State Cheetahs - after they suffered a shock loss to Griquas in their opening match.
Hooker Craig Burden, who is making his first start of the campaign, expects a difficult task against the Bulls, who will be keen to improve on last weekend's effort against the Lions.
"We know the Bulls will be coming out firing after what happened to them," he said.
"They'll have something to prove as well, so we're expecting a full 80 minute game, a really tough one. We're looking forward to it."
Burden credited the entire team for their victory against the Cheetahs and believes they would need a similar effort against the men from Pretoria.
"It was a great team effort against the Cheetahs, I think everyone pulled through," he said.
"It was a tight game where the defence really carried us through at the end. I think it's going to be a similar case this weekend with the defence playing a big role."
The Bulls are under pressure after their humiliation against the Lions. Coach Pine Pienaar knows that another defeat could prove to be catastrophic.
Keep an eye on South Africa U20 fly-half Handrè Pollard, who will make his Currie Cup debut for the Bulls. He is highly-rated and his duel with Sharks pivot Fred Zeiling could be one of the highlights of this match.
Prediction: This fixture could be the closest contest of the weekend but the Sharks' experience should see them home. The Sharks to win by four points!
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jacques Botes (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Butch James, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, Waylon Murray,12 Ulrich Beyers, 11 Akona Ndungane, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Jono Ross (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 David Bullbring, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Tiaan Schoeman, 22 Clayton Blommetjies
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan