Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Two action
If ever there was a time for the Lions to show their bite, now is it!
Having been told they are no longer worthy of Super Rugby participation, the defending Currie Cup champions, the Golden Lions, will head to Durban to take on the beaten Super Rugby finalists, the Sharks in Round Two of South Africa's premier domestic competition.
Admittedly the Sharks are a far cry from the their Super Rugby selection, but the Lions could still make a serious statement to the hierarchy at the South African Rugby Union headquarters in Cape Town.
Add to that the Blue Bulls' trip to Bloemfontein to tackle the Free State Cheetahs on Friday and Western Province heading to Kimberley to face Griquas on Saturday and you have an intriguing round of Currie Cup fixtures.
Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Two action!
Friday, August 17
Free State Cheetahs v Blue Bulls
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 19.19' 17.10 GMT)
The Cheetahs are no doubt smarting from their limp loss to the Lions last week and some harsh words were spoken.
As backline coach Hawies Fourie said the time for talking is over - the players must now perform on the field.
The Bulls kicked off their campaign with a 35-20 win over Griquas in Pretoria last week, but they know the Cheetahs will not be as easy to roll over as was the case last week.
"They will be a completely different team [from the loss to the Lions]," Bulls head coach Pine Pienaar told this website.
"We knew their team would change and the guys coming in will be determined to show they deserve to start regularly," he said of the seven changes made to the under-performing Cheetahs team.
"I know Naka [Drotské, the Cheetahs coach] had a tough week and he worked hard with the players.
"Free State have a proud record in the Currie Cup and they are always motivated to do well in this competition."
Despite his team's impressive win against Griquas Pienaar felt there was plenty of room for improvement as they head to the Free State capital.
"We conceded two soft tries," he said, when quizzed about which aspects of his team's game most concerned him.
"Our man-on-man defence, at times, were not good enough."
Then there was also an issue with their discipline.
"We conceded two unnecessary penalties at scrum time," Pienaar said, adding: "While our discipline [in general] wasn't bad - we conceded just 10 penalties - the last four in the late stages of the game were unnecessary."
He said the message to the team this week was "discipline".
"We certainly want to lift our game in general.
"We know it will be a tough game against Free State - they will be up for it and come at us with everything."
Pienaar, a former Free State Under-20 coach, certainly has some inside knowledge about how things function in Bloemfontein.
"Our set pieces will be crucial and we must be patient in taking the ball through the phases," he said, adding: "If you give then turnover ball they will make you pay."
Prediction: There is no doubt it will be a 'different' Cheetahs team in Bloemfontein this week - the seven changes alone will account for that. However, it is in key positions where the Cheetahs don't have the stability to be serious challengers. Yes, in a six-team competition you could easily reach the play-offs, but the Cheetahs rely too much on players like Adriaan Strauss (on Springbok duty), Coenie Oosthuizen (injured), WP Nel (abroad) Heinrich Brüssow (injured) and Johann Goosen (injured) to be a real threat. The Bulls, despite having 10 players either out injured or on national duty, still have far too much depth. Their set pieces are too good and their systems too sound. The Blue Bulls will win by about 10 points.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Robert Ebersohn (captain), 12 Barry Geel, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Kabamba Floors, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Schalk van Merwe, 18 Francois Uys, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Philip Snyman, 22 Nico Scheepers.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Ulrich Beyers, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Clayton Blommetjies, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Cornell Hess, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Lionel Cronjé, 22 Jan Serfontein.
Referee: Sindile Mayende
Assistants: Marius Jonker, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee
Saturday, August 18
Griquas v Western Province
(GWK Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 14.30; 12.30 GMT)
There was a telling statement by Griquas coach Pote Human, that they want to make Kimberley a fortress.
It was already difficult enough to travel to the Northern Cape city, but if they succeed in making life even more unpleasant the depleted Western Province team could be in fort a tough day at the office.
As it stands WP will look to bounce back from last week's disappointing loss to the Sharks at Newlands, a game in which the home team's performance was almost just as miserable as the weather - described as the worst storm to hit Cape Town in 20 years.
Kimberley will be a far cry from last week - with weather forecasts suggesting a nice warm 24°C and a sun-baked pitch awaiting the visitors.
The two sides met most recently in this year's Vodacom Cup Final, won by WP in the final seconds, and Province know there's 'revenge' in the air.
WP forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot is well aware that they will get no favours from a team that has a habit of knocking over big guns.
"I've read the comments that [Griquas coach] Pote [Human] said they want to be unbeaten at home [this season," Proudfoot told this website.
"They obviously have a lot of resolve about not being beaten at home ... that is a powerful statement."
But there is another reason why Griquas will be highly motivated.
"They were just about there in the Final of the Vodacom Cup and then got pipped [by WP]," Proudfoot said.
"They obviously have a lot of motivation to set that record straight.
"We know going there is always tough.
"They have a massive abrasive pack that plays very well - set pieces will be a good old scrap and it will be good to see how our young front row will evolve and develop through a challenge like this."
Griquas are also determined to bounce back from their opening round loss to the Bulls last week, with coach Pote Human giving some of the senior players an ultimatum.
After replacing suspended fullback Willie le Roux, Human said other senior players are also on thin ice.
"We are determined to get a win," Human said, adding that if he doesn't get the desired result from his senior players he will start looking at some of the youngsters in the squad.
Prediction: This is the toughest game to call. We expected more from Griquas, but they failed to deliver. However, we know in Kimberley they will be more motivated and it is obviously not the best Western Province team. You have to fancy Griquas, yet there is this nagging feeling that WP will be the team to bounce back. It may sound harsh, but the call-up of Tiaan Liebenberg to the Bok squad - and the resultant reshuffle of the pack - has given WP a more dynamic look. Western Province to edge a close battle - by five points or less.
Griquas: 15 Francois Brummer, 14 Wilmaure Louw, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Wesley Wilkins, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Ligtoring Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Janro van Niekerk, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Jaco Nepgen, 20 Marnus Hugo, 21 Walter Venter, 22 Richard Lawson.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Ederies Arendse, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jebb Sinclair, 6 Tyrone Holmes, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Don Armand, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie (captain), 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Yaya Hartzenberg, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistants: Jason Jaftha, Francois de Bruin
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Sharks v Golden Lions
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 19.15; 17.15 GMT)
No doubt this game, being played after South Africa's opening Rugby Championship Test against Argentina, could be the match of the weekend - in Currie Cup terms.
You have a group of players, the Lions, determined to show they are not the one-season wonders so many are making them out to be. Then, of course, there is the Super Rugby saga.
You can expect the Lions to drawn on that saga for additional motivation.
The Sharks, despite not being particularly impressive, still managed to roll over Western Province.
The biggest issue for the Sharks is that their entire front row and all their frontline loose forwards are on national duty. In fact they have 14 players out. Few teams can cope with that much disruption.
However, Lions coach Johan Ackermann refuses to dismiss the home team as a threat.
He said the Currie Cup - reduced to a six-team competition - is now almost like Super Rugby, big derbies every week.
He also feels the Sharks will be very positive after their win in Cape Town, so it will be a tough game.
The most impressive aspect of the Lions' opening round win over the Cheetahs was the resolve and character they showed on defence in the first half, when they only had about 30 percent possession.
"The other positive is how strong our scrum was," Ackermann said about a set piece in which the Sharks were not particularly impressive.
And the line-outs were not that shabby either.
"We lost two of the 10 line-outs on our own throw, the one a slight overthrow and the other one was an error ... we just brought Willie Britz on for his Currie Cup debut and he was excited, with a miscommunication between him and Hendrik Roodt."
Ackermann described those as "minor issues we can fix".
New Sharks captain Jean Deysel said his side is looking to build on a good start against a team they lost to in the Currie Cup Final last year.
"They played well, but we also had a fairly good start to the season," Deysel said.
"As for the Lions, we can only take them as they come this weekend. We've had a bit of analysis on them and we've prepared as we always have for the game so far. Hopefully we'll be able to deliver on the weekend."
Prediction: You can't ignore the fact that the Sharks showed true grit to grind out a win away from home and will be in better shape in Durban. However, this Lions team has it all to play for and they do have some game-breakers in veteran Springbok Butch James, young Andries Coetzee and a solid pack lead by JC Janse van Rensburg. In fact it is in key positions - the spine of the team - that the Lions seem to have the edge. It will be close right to the end, but the Lions should get a win - by less than 10 points.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Jacques Botes, 7 Jean Deysel (captain), 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jandré Marais, 19. Lubabalo “Tera” Mtembu, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 Gouws Prinsloo.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 JR Esterhuizen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Joshua Strauss, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Guy Cronje, 22 Ruan Combrinck.
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Assistants: Christie du Preez, Blake Beattie
TMO: Deon van Blommenstein