Currie Cup preview: Round Five
The Currie Cup tournament reaches its halfway stage and there are several exciting matches lined-up for the latest round of action.
The Sharks are sitting pretty at the top of the standings while the Free State Cheetahs and defending champions Western Province are leading the chasing pack.
For the first time this season there will be no matches played on Friday evening. The weekend's action kicks off on Saturday at GWK Park in Kimberley where Griquas host the Golden Lions.
After that, the struggling Blue Bulls, who are the bottom-placed side on the table, face the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria before the action concludes at Newlands in Cape Town - where Province take on the Sharks in a repeat of last year's Final.
Saturday, September 7
Griquas v Golden Lions
Blue Bulls v Free State Cheetahs
Western Province v Sharks
1. Sharks 14
2. Cheetahs 12
3. Western Province 12
4. Golden Lions 9
5. Griquas 6
6. Blue Bulls 6
Griquas v Golden Lions
GWK Park, Kimberley
After losing their two opening matches to the Cheetahs and the Sharks the Lions have exploded into life in recent weeks.
Two weeks ago they claimed the biggest win of the season when they upset the Bulls 62-23 in Pretoria and last week they held Western Province to a 31-31 draw in Johannesburg, after trailing 25-10 at half-time.
The Lions could easily have won their first two matches had they converted their opportunities and the points table would have had a different look to it now.
They have stuck to their fast-paced expansive game throughout all their matches and coach Johan Ackermann deserves plenty of credit for his clever use of his bench during their two previous matches.
Players like Jaco Kriel, Robbie Coetzee and Tian Meyer have all made telling contributions coming on in recent weeks and have all been rewarded with starting berths for this weekend's clash.
Kriel, in particular, is a player to keep an eye on as he is always in the thick of the action. His combination with fellow back-rowers Willie Britz and captain Derrick Minnie will be a key factor for the Lions.
They compliment each other well and combine their potent attacking attributes with rock solid defence. Another player who could be difficult for Griquas to stop is Elton Jantjies, who has impressed with his distribution skills in recent weeks.
They will fancy their chances against Griquas, who have been struggling after starting their campaign with a surprising victory over the Sharks in Durban.
Since that match things have gone somewhat pear-shaped for Pote Human's men as they have lost successive matches to the Bulls, Western Province and the Cheetahs.
They are also experiencing a lock crisis after Hilton Lobberts broke his arm against the Cheetahs last weekend. Other second rowers out through injury are include Rynard Landman, Jaco Nepgen and Jonathan Adendorf, while Rory Arnold has been suspended for seven weeks for biting an opponent.
Griquas do have an attacking mindset and don't be surprised if they take the Lions on in this department. New inside centre Howard Mnisi is a player who has made strides this season and if the Lions want to be successful they must keep him in check.
Prediction: The Lions are on a high and although Griguas are always competitive in Kimberley, the visitors will win by seven points!
Griquas: 15 PJ Vermeulen, 14 Richard Lawson, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Burger Schoeman, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Victor Kruger, 4 Patrick O'Brien, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Dalton Davis, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 JP Nel.
Golden Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Andries Coetzee, 13 Robert de Bruyn, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Derick Minnie (captain), 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Ruan Venter, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 JJ Breet, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Deon Helberg, 22 Ruhan Nel.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Blue Bulls v Free State Cheetahs
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
The Bulls have been struggling in recent weeks and anything less than a victory this weekend will be met with disapproval by their fanatical supporters.
After surprising most observers by notching a credible draw against Western Province in their opening match, the Bulls claimed a narrow win over Griquas before suffering defeats to the Lions and the Sharks.
They are currently languishing at the bottom of the table and coach Pine Pienaar knows that they need to improve sooner rather than later if they want to make the play-offs.
"The pressure builds and maybe the players lose focus, but it is those soft moments we create [which cause problems]," he said.
"We conceded nine turnover tries from broken play. So our biggest problem is absorbing the pressure from the other side. We need to apply our own pressure on them and convert that into points."
Pienaar expects a far better effort this weekend as another defeat and has faith that his charges can turn things around.
"You are playing against quality sides and, here and there, you are going to get thumped. That is what happened over the last two weekends.
"If we can put up a better performance, the scoreboard will look after itself. Against the Cheetahs we need to be focused on playing the game our style and at our tempo."
The Cheetahs got their campaign off to a fine start with victory at the Lions but then lost to the Sharks and Western Province before returning to the victory trail against Griquas.
At their best, they are probably the most complete side in the tournament as they combine a solid platform set by their forwards with an exciting attacking game-plan from their backs.
Discarded Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane has been playing phenomenally since returning to his province and his match-up against Bulls powerhouse Frik Kirsten in the scrums could be one of the highlights of the game
Nyakane's game is not just about scrummaging, however, as he also puts in a huge contribution in his general play. For the Bulls, young fly-half Handré Pollard has a huge responsibility on his young shoulders and if he gets front-foot ball he could guide his side to victory.
Prediction: The Bulls will be desperate to return to their winning ways, but the Cheetahs are a side who are competitive in all facets of play. This could be the most closely-contested match of the round but the Cheetahs should take it by three points!
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Akona Ndungane, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Jono Ross (c), 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Ulrich Beyers, 22 Clayton Blommetjies/Tiaan Schoeman.
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 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo (c), 5 Lodewyk De Jager, 4 Teboho Mohoje, 3 Rossouw De Klerk, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Wian Du Preez, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Willie Du Plessis, 22 Piet Lindeque
Referee: Stuart Berry
Western Province v Sharks
Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
The Sharks will be out for revenge after their surprise loss to the men from the Cape in last year's Final.
The Durban-based outfit have undergone major changes since then and have done well under the new coaching regime of former Springbok centre Brendan Venter.
Despite a shaky start - where they lost to Griquas in their opener - they have bounced back with victories over the Lions, Cheetahs and Bulls and are two points ahead of WP on the table.
WP nabbed a 25-18 win in last year's final but the Sharks won both the matches during the round-robin stages of last year's tournament, so the home side will also have that weighing on their minds ahead of this weekend's clash.
Sharks captain Jacques Botes credited the new coaching staff's rotation of players for their current success and despite beating the Bulls convincingly last weekend why they have made several changes to their staring XV.
They have called up Butch James and Tim Whitehead for the match and WP coach Allister Coetzee believes he understands the reasons behind the visitors bringing a more experienced team to Newlands.
"They will bring players who will have the power and physicality to play against Province," he said.
"The Sharks would have noted we showed good intent with ball in hand last week, so they'll come well prepared.
"It would also seem that the Sharks were not too happy with certain areas of their game against the Blue Bulls last week and that's why they make changes."
Coetzee has made just one change to his side that drew with the Lions. But he believes bringing in Louis Schreuder for Nic Groom will have a huge bearing on the match.
"Apart from the rotation policy there was also a tactical aspect to Louis' selection, just as there was when we opted to go with Nic Groom for last week's match against the Golden Lions," he said.
"I don't want to give away too much but Louis is a guy who can cover space, position himself to receive kicks and he's also got a good boot on him."
Prediction: This should be another close encounter but the Sharks' decision to change a winning team will prove to be their undoing and WP will win by five points!
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 Louis Schreuder, 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 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Sharks:15 SP Marais, 14 Sizo Maseko, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Butch James, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jacques Botes (c), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Danie Mienie.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Craig Joubert