Preview: Currie Cup, Round Seven
It is probably an understatement to say it is crunch time for some teams, as the Currie Cup competition moves into the home stretch.
It is probably an understatement to say it is crunch time for some teams, as the Currie Cup competition moves into the home stretch.
There is no doubt Griquas and the Blue Bulls are under immense pressure to get their campaigns back on track.
However, the current top four - Western Province, Sharks, Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions - have just as much to play for in Round Seven of South Africa's premier domestic competition.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann put it in a nutshell when he pointed out that, with just three rounds remaining after this week, time is running out.
"If we have any aspirations to reach the play-offs, not to mention a home semifinal, we'll have to win so that we don't fall further behind Western Province, the Sharks and the Free State Cheetahs," Ackermann said of his fourth-placed team.
"The competition can change in an instant," he said, adding: "Just one week can make a huge difference - one defeat and another team wins and you are out of the semifinal [top four] places."
While the Bulls have their backs to the wall, and will definitely not hold anything back against their trans-Jukskei rivals, the Lions have their own source of motivation.
"We are also determined to reach the play-offs, which means our players will not be short of motivation and urgency either," Ackermann told this website.
The weekend's drama starts on Friday, when Western Province host Griquas at Newlands.
In Saturday's matches the Sharks meet the Free State Cheetahs in Durban and the Golden Lions host the Blue Bulls at Ellis Park in the Gauteng derby.
Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Seven action!
Friday, September 20
Western Province v Griquas
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 19.10, 17.10 GMT)
Western Province, unbeaten and sitting pretty at the top of the standings, will be fancied to take at least four more valuable points in defence of the title they won in such dramatic fashion last year.
The men from Cape Town will also not be short on confidence, given that they managed to hold out the Blue Bulls in Pretoria last week, despite being down to 14 men for 45 minutes.
Griquas will always put up a brave fight and have had only one (20-point) blow-out this season. Their other matches have produced a win and four bonus-point defeats (twice by one point, including WP, and twice by six points).
Griquas may also find an ally in the cold front that has hit Cape Town - rain, freezing conditions (a high of just 11°C predicted for Friday) and a strong south-westerly wind.
Not surprisingly Western Province coach Allister Coetzee spoke of the need to be more flexible and the need to adapt.
WP now have a backline capable of cutting any team apart, especially their fleet-footed back three, but conditions may require some restraint - even if Coetzee says that his team will continue to "play with intent".
"We are at Newlands, it is an evening game and it will be wet; so there are different challenges - but we must still be accurate," Coetzee said.
"For me, personally, we must keep playing the way we are playing - with intent.
"Of late, when we ran with the ball, you could see that there was great punch and great pace. It's about what we do with that ball. We've done good things.
"We are working to get the balance right. We are doing more or less the same we have done before, but now people say, 'Province are playing running rugby again'."
Griquas coach Pote Human spoke of his team's need to be "disciplined" against the competiton's frontrunners.
"We have been conceding far too many penalties, especially under pressure," Human told this website.
"While our defence has improved a lot this year, we have struggled to turn our opportunities into points.
"We know Western Province is the best defensive unit in the competition and we will have to be very patient and ensure we can take the ball through many phases to get those points."
Human admitted his team would be underdogs, but he remained confident that the threat of playing promotion/relegation matches at the end of the season would spur his team to greater heights.
"We have to be realistic and look at the upcoming promotion/relegation matches," said Human.
"If we can finish above the Blue Bulls on the points log, we will be safe from that. It's never easy going to Newlands and we know that we are the underdogs."
2013: Western Province won 20-19, Kimberley
2012: Western Province won 45-21, Cape Town
2012: Western Province won 25-20, Kimberley
2011: Western Province won 41-35, Kimberley
2011: Western Province and Griquas drew 26-all, Cape Town
2010: Western Province won 48-32, Cape Town
2010: Western Province won 50-3, Kimberley
Prediction: It is an in-form, confident Western Province team against an injury-depleted Griquas team struggling to find some form. An upset is possible, but the smart money is on a Western Province win - by about 10 points, because of the conditions.
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 Rohan Kitshoff, 5 De Kock Steenkamp (captain), 4 Mthetheleli Fuzani, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Rayn Smid, 20 Josh Katzen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Demetri Catrakilis.
Griquas: 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Burger Schoeman, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Patrick O'Brien, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Marnus Hugo, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 Richard Lawson.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe
Assistant Referees: Jonathan Kaplan, Marc van Zyl
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Saturday, September 21
Sharks v Free State Cheetahs
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
This game may well go a long way to determine home ground advantage in the play-offs.
The Sharks, second on the standings, are just three points ahead of the Cheetahs and with only three weeks remaining after this round, now is a perfect time for teams to start making their moves.
Sharks backline coach Sean Everett was not just delivering cliched response when he said this game is "extremely important" in the greater scheme of things.
"If we do win on Saturday it will give us a bit of daylight between second and third place and keep us in the hunt for a first-place finish, which will guarantee us a semifinal and [possible] final at home," Everitt told this website.
However, overcoming a much-improved Cheetahs team - and getting that edge in the final dash to the play-offs - will require a special effort.
"As we all know, the Cheetahs are a Super Rugby [standard] team and we will have to be on top of our game if we are to beat them," Everitt said, adding: "We will have to improve significantly from our performance against Griquas last week."
While the set pieces will always be vital and dominating the collission also an important aspect, the Sharks mentor said they had worked hard on getting "continuity" with ball in hand.
"Our first half against Griquas [last week] wasn't good and another aspect was that we conceded eight penalties in the half.
"We also made a lot of unforced errors in that game - which meant we didn't get any continuity and we didn't string phases together on attack.
"In the second half we only conceded one penalty and that made a difference."
2013: Sharks won 18-15, Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 37-30, Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 34-32, Durban
2011: Sharks won 20-13, Durban (semifinal)
2011: Cheetahs won 53-32, Bloemfontein
2011: Sharks won 43-34, Durban
2010: Sharks won 30-16, Durban
2010: Sharks won 25-13, Bloemfontein
Prediction: Going with the home team theme, we feel the Sharks look the more settled - despite a few rotational changes. The Cheetahs just don't look the same quality outfit without the all-Springbok front row they had in Super Rugby. The Sharks to edge another close contest - by fewer than 10 points.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Lubabalo Mtembu, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Brynard Stander, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Butch James, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
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 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo (captain), 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Philip van der Walt, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Ryno Benjamin, 22 Willie du Plessis.
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant Referees: Tiaan Jonker, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Deon van Blommestein
Golden Lions v Blue Bulls
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
If anything, the Lions entertain. Their all-out attacking game may be far from flawless, but it ensures they always give themselves a chance.
The other "entertainment" factor will be watching the two Jantjies brothers, Elton (Lions) and Tony (Bulls), go head-to-head in a senior match for the first time.
However, Bulls coach Pine Pienaar knows his team's backs are against the wall and they will hope to use the Lions' expansive gameplan against them.
"The Lions are an energetic team with ball in hand," Pienaar told this website, adding: "They are not scared to play from anywhere on the field.
"One thing Ackers [Lions coach Johan Ackermann] achieved is to also get a set of forwards that can dominate. You know they will take you on in the set pieces and their mauling is outstanding."
However, this high-risk approach does have its drawbacks.
"We know that with their approach there will be opportunities, when they turn over the ball, or if we can put pressure on at the breakdown to win turnovers, the chances will be there," Pienaar said. "We just need to be patient and use the opportunities that are presented to us."
Lions coach Johann Ackermann dismissed the notion that his team's 62-23 demolition of the Bulls in Pretoria last month - still this season's biggest victiory - will make the home side complacent.
"We didn't play well against the Cheetahs [last week] and we are determined to rectify that," Ackermann told this website.
"It [that Loftus loss] could serve as motivation for the Bulls, as they will not be happy with that and will be out to set the record straight.
"Add to that the fact that they lost to Western Province [at Loftus] last week and they will certainly be charged up.
"There is no doubt we are in for a huge game. However, there is a chance we can use that [Loftus] result to our advantage, because if we can get off to a good start, get early points, we could create some doubt [in their minds] again."
The Bulls mentor, Pienaar, feels the Lions' biggest advantage is that their team changed very little this year.
Now add in some high-pressure games - like the Vodacom Cup Final against the Pumas and the promotion-relegation series against the Southern Kings in - and the Lions players know how to handle pressure situations.
"Our team for this weekend's game has six Under-21 players," Pienaar said, adding: "In pressure situations the less experienced players can make mistakes.
"The key is that the players around those youngsters must guide them and help them to remain calm."
2013: Golden Lions won 62-23, Pretoria
2012: Blue Bulls won 50-29, Johannesburg
2012: Golden Lions won 32-23, Pretoria
2011: Blue Bulls won 21-18, Johannesburg
2011: Golden Lions won 36-27, Pretoria
2010: Blue Bulls won 24-21, Pretoria
2010: Blue Bulls won 32-18, Johannesburg
Prediction: This is probably the toughest game of the weekend to predict - a desperate Bulls side against a free-running Lions outfit. The Golden Lions do indeed look more settled and composure will be key in these situations. The Lions to win by 10 to 15 points.
Golden Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Andries Coetzee, 13 Deon Helberg, 12 Dylan Des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Derick Minnie (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenberg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 CJ van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Lambert Groenewald, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Lionel Cronje, 22 Ruhan Nel.
Blue Bulls: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Ulrich Beyers, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Tony Jantjies, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 William Small-Smith, 22 Jurgen Visser.
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Willie Roos with Nic Stryp in training (Tappe Henning has had to withdraw.)