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Preview: Currie Cup, Round Eight

Thu, 27 Sep 2012 22:28
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Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Eight action!
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The race, for play-off spots and home-ground advantage, in the six-team Currie Cup competition has two distinct groups.

The front-runners - the table-topping and defending champion Golden Lions (24 points), the Sharks (21) and Western Province (20) - have an advantage over the chasing pack.

The bottom half of the table sees the fourth-placed Griquas (15), Blue Bulls (13) and Free State Cheetahs (12) in a scrap for the remaining spot.

Of course it can all change in an instant, given the unpredictable nature of the season.

However, those with the points in hand do have the edge going into the last three rounds of league action.

The Cheetahs are at home to fourth-placed Griquas on Saturday. In Saturday's other match – both kick off at the earlier time of 14.00 to accommodate the Springboks' Rugby Championship Test against the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria – Western Province entertain the Golden Lions at Newlands.

And in the weekend's first match the Bulls travel to Durban to take on the Sharks on Friday.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said this time of the season the 'real champions' step forward.

"It's the business end of the competition right now and the cream will be rising to the top," Plumtree said, adding: "If we want to be up there, we will have to play really well in the remaining three matches.

Blue Bulls flyhalf Louis Fouché tops the point-scoring table with 102 points - 12 conversions, 25 penalties and a drop-goal. Behind Fouché in tied second place are Sharks centre Meyer Bosman on 91 and WP flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis on 88.

Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane, Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule and Blue Bulls loose forward CJ Stander are the joint top try-scorers with five touchdowns apiece.

Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Eight action!

Friday, 28 September

Sharks v Blue Bulls
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)

There is simply no margin for error as the fifth-placed Blue Bulls travel to Durban to take on the second-placed Sharks.

The men from Pretoria, despite their impressive win over the Cheetahs, are well aware that they are effectively playing 'knock-out' rugby for the next few weeks and will need a repeat of last week's heroics.

The Bulls, like The Sharks, are missing a number of key players - mostly due to national team call-ups.

"The Bulls responded well to the pressure they've found themselves under," Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said.

"They would have viewed their game against the Cheetahs as a sort of final for them to move off the bottom of the log.

"So having come through that with a win will have given them a boost and some confidence. Their defence was much-improved and we know it's going to be another highly physical match this weekend.
 
"The Sharks and Bulls always bring the best out of each other."

Despite the praise from the opposing camp, Bulls coach Pine Pienaar felt his team will have to raise the bar considerable against one of the tournament's form teams.

"My biggest concern is that we had soft moments again in the game," Pienaar told this website.

"There was a knock-on on our 22, from that scrum they [the Cheetahs] attacked [and eventually scored from]. The third try, which they scored through Marcel van der Merwe, two minutes from time, we lost the ball from a short restart.

"It is more individual focus that we have the get right .... which in a game against the Sharks will put us under pressure.

"As we all know, the Sharks are a very dangerous team with turnover ball - players like Keegan Daniel, Cobus Reinach and Louis Ludik are the kind of players that will make you pay.

"That is why it is vital that we cut down completely on the turnovers [we concede] and penalties in the game."

Sharks coach John Plumtree asked for more resolve and better team work from his players.

"We were good enough to beat the Lions [last week], and should have won it, but we threw it away and that was disappointing, gifting the Lions the win," Plumtree said.

"When we analysed it again, we realised that we could have done a lot better ourselves. That was the frustrating thing.

"We want to be at the top or in touch with the top team when it comes to the knockout stage.

"There are three games remaining and no one gets an easy run in with only six teams competing, so it's the side that puts it all together now. We have got two home games, which we need to make sure we win, and obviously next weekend in Bloemfontein will be very important as well."

Results this year:

For the Sharks:
Golden Lions 28-22 Sharks
Sharks 43-27 Western Province
Griquas 22-15 Sharks
Sharks 34-32 Free State Cheetahs
Blue Bulls 42-31 Sharks
Sharks 30-14 Golden Lions
Western Province 23-25 Sharks

For the Blue Bulls:
Blue Bulls 34-30 Free State Cheetahs
Griquas 49-34 Blue Bulls
Blue Bulls 23-32 Golden Lions
Western Province 42-6 Blue Bulls
Blue Bulls 42-31 Sharks
Free State Cheetahs 32-18 Blue Bulls
Blue Bulls 35-20 Griquas

Prediction: The Sharks have the fire power to go all the way, but they have been erratic at times. Last week was a classic example of a team with all the potential, but unable to land the killer blow. The Bulls have been vulnerable, a team that lacks experience in key positions. If the Sharks strike early they can knock the Bulls out of the play-off race. The Sharks to win - by 10 to 15 points.

Teams:

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Meyer Bosman, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jandré Marais, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 S'bura Sithole.

Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Louis Fouché/Lionel Cronjé, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Bongo Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Lionel Cronjé/Willie du Plessis, 22 Ulrich Beyers.

Referee: Mark Lawrence
Assistants: Ben Crouse, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Johann Meuwesen

Saturday, 29 September

Free State Cheetahs v Griquas
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT)

The Cheetahs literally find themselves in a 'last chance saloon' situation - defeat on Saturday will effectively end their play-off hopes.

And the spin-off from that will be a n unwanted promotion-relegation shoot-out with the First Division top guns - most likely to the EP Kings.

As of the mounting pressure of a 'must-win' situation is not enough, the Cheetahs are being ravaged by injuries - especially among the front row and loose forwards.

The recall of star prop Coenie Oosthuizen to the national team, along with the injury of Schalk van der Merwe means the Cheetahs had to call on new Stellenbosch recruit Brummer Badenhorst as cover for their paper-thin front row resources.

The Cheetahs' scrum doctor, two-time World Cup winner Os du Randt, was one of the busiest men in Bloemfontein this week.

And their loose forward reserves feature veteran Bok Hendro Scholtz, who was called out of retirement a few weeks ago.

Despite all these problems, Griquas coach Pote Human is expecting a torrid time in Bloemfontein - with desperation the driving force behind a Cheetahs team in an unfamiliar position on the standings.

Human said the Cheetahs, who have showed just glimpses of their true form this season, will produce an expansive game to resurrect their season.

"They will be out to score tries, they do need the bonus points," Human told this website.

"It will be an entertaining game by both teams.

"We certainly won't deviate from what brought us here [this season]," he said of his own team, which also favour a ball-in-hand approach.

He admitted there will be a good measure of physicality by the home team.

"That is what they did in our last encounter, and that worked for them," Human added.

He admitted that they will have to pay attention to their set pieces on Saturday.

"Free State are very good in the scrums," the Griquas mentor said, adding: "We also have to be more clinical and better decision-making.

"We should not start running out of our 22 unnecessary ... if it is not on, rather play the territory game."

Results this year:

For the Free State Cheetahs:
Blue Bulls 34-30 Free State Cheetahs
Free State Cheetahs 23-38 Golden Lions
Free State Cheetahs 22-29 Western Province
Sharks 34-32 Free State Cheetahs
Griquas 16-29 Free State Cheetahs
Free State Cheetahs 32-18 Blue Bulls
Golden Lions 43-20 Free State Cheetahs

For Griquas:
Western Province 45-21 Griquas
Griquas 49-34 Blue Bulls
Griquas 22-15 Sharks
Golden Lions 32-42 Griquas
Griquas 16-29 Free State Cheetahs
Griquas 20-25 Western Province
Blue Bulls 35-20 Griquas

Prediction: It was good while it lasted - Griquas's victory run. However, their loss to Western Province last week showed up their shortcomings - a team that have some very good players, but also a few glaring gaps in their make-up. A desperate Cheetahs team may benefit from the high-risk approach that handed WP a number of soft tries last week. And if the Cheetahs get on the front foot, Griquas could again be on the wrong end of a hiding. The Free State Cheetahs by about 20 points.

Teams:

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Raymond Rhule, 12 Robert Ebersohn (captain), 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 AJ Le Roux, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Tewis du Bruyn, 21 Andries Strauss, 22 Philip Snyman.

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 Wesley Wilkins, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Rynhardt Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Janro van Niekerk.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Ivann Espag, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 JP Nel.

Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistants: Marius van der Westhuizen, Francois de Bruin
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee

Western Province v Golden Lions
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT)

The Lions may have lost flyhalf Elton Jantjies and utility back Jaco Taute to Springbok duty, but they still appear to be a more settled side that the injury-hit Western Province.

WP coach Allister Coetzee must wonder what he has done to upset lady luck, given the insane number of injuries i n key positions - especially at flyhalf.

In less than a month Province have gone from having superfluous of No.10s - so much so that they singed some off to minor unions - to where they have just one fit flyhalf and he is leaving at the end of the season.

And the loose forward injury crisis have left the coach with fielding his first-choice hooker and captain on the flank, and extending Canadian import Jebb Sinclair's stay in Cape Town.

In stark contrast the defending champion Lions were able to replace their departing Bok flyhalf, Jantjies, with an even more experienced international in World Cup-wining Bok Butch James.

And while Taute's departure is obviously a setback his replacement, Dylan des Fountain, is by no means a slouch. Just back from injury he will be keen to make an impression.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann felt the numerous personnel changes would be less influential than personal ambition - given the positions the two teams find themselves in.

With home ground advantage in the play-offs vital for any team with aspirations of taken home the most coveted trophy on the domestic stage, defeat this weekend could have dire consequences in the long run.

"It will be about the players believing in the structures and trust each other," Ackermann said, when asked what will be the real difference between two quality teams at Newlands.

"It is vital to play for 80 minutes as a team and not become individualistic - remain calm and play for the team cause ... especially if you are still within striking distance.

"If you get too far behind you will expect individuals to start trying things, because they will attempt the impossible.

"However, as long as you remain in touch - inside 10 points - you must believe in what we have worked on.

"That is what we have done [this season] and it will again be the key on Saturday.

"We mustn't panic when it gets tough and stick with what we worked on in training."

Results this year:

For Western Province:
Western Province 45-21 Griquas
Sharks 43-27 Western Province
Free State Cheetahs 22-29 Western Province
Western Province 42-6 Blue Bulls
Golden Lions 26-23 Western Province
Griquas 20-25 Western Province
Western Province 23-25 Sharks

For the Golden Lions:
Golden Lions 28-22 Sharks
Free State Cheetahs 23-38 Golden Lions
Blue Bulls 23-32 Golden Lions
Golden Lions 32-42 Griquas
Golden Lions 26-23 Western Province
Sharks 30-14 Golden Lions
Golden Lions 43-20 Free State Cheetahs

Prediction: Western Province have a proven track record at Newlands this year and despite the many disruptions remain favourites. However, the Lions have something few teams have displayed against WP this season - a 'never say die' attitude. They have come back from the dead several times already this season and that will be their biggest threat on Saturday - the ability to fight to the bitter end. This may just be the game of the weekend, with the Lions to sneak a win ... by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Damian de Allende, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Don Armand, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Helmut Lehmann, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Berton Klaasen, 22 Patrick Howard.
 
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Deon van Rensburg, 22 James Kamana.

Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistants: Christie du Preez, Linston Manuels
TMO: Deon van Blommenstein

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