Preview: Currie Cup, Round Eight
All to play for! It sounds so simplistic, but in that little phrase is contained an enormous amount of drama.
All to play for! It sounds so simplistic, but in that little phrase is contained an enormous amount of drama.
With just three rounds of Currie Cup action remaining, the margin for error is getting smaller and the reward even bigger.
The table-topping Sharks and Western Province will be keen to cement their places in the top four and take a huge step closer to securing homeground advantage in the play-offs.
However, the vastly-improved Golden Lions are lurking dangerously in the background.
The Lions are third on the log, four points behind the Sharks and WP.
However, a bonus point win for the Lions over the Sharks at Ellis Park - coupled by the Sharks and Province collecting no more than a bonus point - could see the team from Johannesburg jump to the summit.
Not surprising the Sharks are making the trip to the Highveld with a certain amount of trepidation.
"The Lions are a dangerous side, and we found that out here [in Durban] when they scored a couple of quick tries against us," Sharks backline coach Sean Everitt said.
"They play an exciting brand of rugby, and they are giving the ball a lot of air.
"So we'll really have to be on our toes defensively, and play for the full 80 minutes to keep them out."
His fellow coach, forward mentor Brad Macleod-Henderson, echoed similar sentiments.
"The Lions have done well this year and have had a good run in the Currie Cup, they have a tough pack of forwards, some exciting backs and we're playing at Ellis Park so it's going to be a big challenge on Friday," Macleod-Henderson said.
The Cheetahs, a further four points off the pace, will also have it 'all to play for' when they host WP.
They 'must win' to stay ahead of the Blue Bulls and Griquas - who are just a win away from being back in the play-off race.
Province coach Allister Coetzee also took a cautious approach to his team's trip to Bloemfontein.
"The Cheetahs are a very good side and you shouldn't look at the loss in Durban last weekend," Coetzee said.
"You need to look at their place on the log [fourth] to know how desperate they're going to be in front of their home crowd to keep their hopes in the competition alive."
As for the Bulls and Griquas, they both still harbour faint hopes of semifinal berths, but in reality are in a desperate race to avoid the promotion-relegation matches at the end of the season.
We look at all the Round Eight action!
Friday, September 27
Free State Cheetahs v Western Province
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.05, 15.05 GMT)
Free State Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské called for a much better defensive effort from his side when they take on Western Province.
"We have spoken to each and every one of the players," he said.
"The message was simple. They have to decide if they want to buy into our defensive structures and if they are going to pitch for the game mentally."
The Cheetahs are still in the running for a place in the knock-out stages of the competition and will only bolster their place among the top sides if they beat a motivated Western Province.
But it will take a huge effort from the Bloemfontein-based team.
The Cheetahs will look to take on Western Province in the scrums, with heavyweights like props Trevor Nyakane, new inclusion Schalk van der Merwe, and locks Lodewyk de Jager and Freddie Ngoza providing power up front.
Van der Merwe and Ngoza proved their worth after they came on as replacements against the Sharks and Drotské rewarded them with inclusion in the run-on side.
"Both Schalk van der Merwe and Freddie Ngoza did very well against the Sharks. They will give us more power, specially at scrum time. They deserve a chance after their individual performances and that is what they are given."
Western Province travel to Bloemfontein after a difficult home game against Griquas last weekend and will look to better that performance against the Cheetahs.
The Capetonians beat Griquas 19-13 in a tough match played in inclement weather.
"The game against Griquas is one that we much rather want to forget," said Western Province coach Allister Coetzee.
Those are the games where you take the points and move on.
"This week we focused on the Cheetahs, which will be another tough ask. We will have to execute our game plan much better and will have to be more clinical."
2913: Western Province won 15-14, Cape Town
2012: Western Province won 36-15, Cape Town
2012: Western Province won 29-22, Bloemfontein
2011: Free State Cheetahs won 34-20, Cape Town
2011: Free State Cheetahs won 28-22, Bloemfontein
2010: Western Province won 31-7, Cape Town (semifinal)
2010: Free State Cheetahs won 29-24, Cape Town
2010: Western Province won 25-11, Bloemfontein
Prediction: Confident, or rather lack of it, may well be the Free State Cheetahs' biggest hurdle. If they truly believe, then they can beat WP. However, as the saying goes: Champions make their own luck and WP have had their share of narrow escapes - including two draws. Maybe their game is not aesthetically the most pleasing, but at the end of the season all the fans want to see is that golden trophy in the cabinet. Western Province to win by less than 10 points.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Piet Lindeque, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Johannes Prinsloo (captain), 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Teboho Mohoje, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Freddy Ngoza, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Francois Uys, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Ryno Benjamin, 22 Willie du Plessis.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Michael van der Spuy, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Mthetheleli Fuzani, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Juan Harris, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Josh Katzen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Demetri Catrakilis.
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Pieter Janse van Vuuren
TMO: Willie Roos
Golden Lions v Sharks
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 19.10, 17.10 GMT)
There is no denying there is a lot at stake when the Golden Lions and Sharks go head-to-head in Friday's late match.
The winner will be a step closer to home ground advantage in the play-offs.
The coastal side is sitting pretty in first place on the log, but could easily swap places with the third-placed Lions, who trail them by four points.
The Sharks can retain their second position even if they lose, but then the men from Durban must get at least one bonus point and prevent the Lions from getting a four-try bonus point.
That is easier said than done. The Lions have already collected four of those, having scored 31 tries in seven matches.
Lions coach Johann Ackermann said while his team wanted to jump the queue, he believed the Sharks would be motivated to cement their place at the summit on the points table.
"We will have to continue scoring points and preferably winning. We know this competition isn't easy and we want to stay in the top four," Ackermann said.
"A win on Friday could give us a nudge to advance even higher on the log, but they [the Sharks] would want to hold onto their place, so it is going to be a tough and interesting game."
Both teams are fresh off convincing victories last weekend and could dish up a mouth-watering encounter at Ellis Park.
The Sharks were particularly impressive against the Cheetahs in Durban where they put 50 points past the central-South Africa team.
The victory bore all the hallmarks of a cohesive team playing with confidence in their game plan and coaching staff.
With only three pool rounds remaining the Sharks need only two more log points to claim a semifinal place.
Sharks forwards coach Brad MacLeod-Henderson said his charges were determined to claim a home semifinal berth, but they could not afford to be distracted by their log position.
"We want to have a home semi and if all goes well, a home Final, but we've said all along, the process and the performance is what we're really looking at," MacLeod-Henderson said.
"We played a fantastic game on Saturday, there are still areas we need to improve on. We'll have to play as well, if not better, this Friday against the Lions if we want to get the right result."
The Lions were equally impressive in their 35-26 victory over the Blue Bulls last weekend where they scored five tries for the victory.
Both teams boast solid forward packs, but the match-ups in the backline could provide for some fireworks.
The battle of the flyhalves and the fullbacks promises to be exciting as both teams possess arguably the in-form players in these positions.
Since his return to Johannesburg from Cape Town, Elton Jantjies has grown in confidence and is close to his old best.
His Sharks counterpart Fred Zeilinga has been one of the hottest prospects this season.
At fullback both the Lions' Marnitz Boshoff and the Sharks' SP Marais have been on fire this season and could soon be considered for higher honours if they continue on the upwards curve.
2013: Sharks won 33-25, Durban
2012: Golden Lions won 28-22, Johannesburg
2012: Sharks won 30-14, Durban
2011: Sharks won 53-9, Durban
2011: Golden Lions won 28-19, Johannesburg
2010: Golden Lions won 22-20, Johannesburg
2010: Sharks won 48-19, Durban
Prediction: This the toughest game of the weekend to call. Both teams have some amazing runners and a sound attacking game. If there is a difference it is on defence - where the Lions have a tendency to miss a few too many one-on-one tackles. Those individual errors have already cost them dearly this season and may do so again on Friday. The Sharks to claim a high-scoring thriller by about 10 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 Warren Whitely, 7 Derick Minnie (captain), 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 CJ van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenberg, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Grant Janke, 22 Ruhan Nel.
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 Justin Downey, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Brynard Stander, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Andrew James, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistant Referees: Jaco Kotze, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Johan Greeff
Saturday, September 28
Griquas v Blue Bulls
(GWK Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 14.00, 12.00 GMT)
Dance of the desperates. It has such a nice ring to it.
These teams are both desperate. The Bulls in particular will be keen to avoid the ignominy that befell the Cheetahs last year - when the men from Bloemfontein were forced into a promotion-relegation series against the PE Kings.
The shame of finishing last is not something that will sit well with the hardliners in Pretoria - regardless of the fact that 20-odd senior players have moved on in the last six months.
Griquas, just like the Bulls, will be driven by desperation to stage a dramatic comeback in the series in the hope of sneaking into the semifinals - despite the odds being stacked against them.
The loser knows full well the price they will pay.
"We don't want finish last," said Griquas coach Pote Human - who, ironically, will be coaching in Pretoria next year.
According to Bulls mentor Pine Pienaar his team has been selected with a specific plan in mind this week.
"I think it is fair to say that we will try and play in a particular way and for that, we will need a very strong contribution from our bench," Pienaar said.
"All 22 will have to contribute if we want to beat Griquas in Kimberley.
"They are a very dangerous side at home and came so close in a number of their matches.
"This really will be our toughest challenge of the season, given our log position and the number of matches left."
Human, who spoke last week of struggling to motivate his players after a series of close defeats, said a lot of the work he did with the players this week focussed on the top six inches.
"We worked very hard on the mental aspects of the game," said Human of a team he described as playing like a team who believes they can't win.
"I believe we can still make the play-offs if we win all three our remaining matches," he said, adding: "It may just be a mathematical chance, but we will never give up the fight."
He admitted the Bulls remain a tough team to beat, despite their poor results this season and the youthful nature of their side.
2013: Blue Bulls won 15-9, Pretoria
2012: Griquas won 49-34, Kimberley
2012: Blue Bulls won 35-20, Pretoria
2011: Griquas won 48-44, Kimberley
2011: Blue Bulls won 44-20, Pretoria
2010: Blue Bulls won 48-36, Kimberley
2010: Blue Bulls won 39-38, Pretoria
Prediction: Griquas may well do to the Bulls this year what they did to the Free State Cheetahs last year - sneak past them in the latter stages of the competition and leave the big union to fight for survival in a promotion-relegation series. It will be a nice parting gift from coach Pote Human to Griquas, who we feel will sneak a narrow win - by less than 10 points.
Griquas: 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Richard Lawson, 13 JP Nel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Burger Schoeman, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Brendan Pitzer, 18 Patrick O'Brien, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 Jean Stemmet.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Akona Ndungane, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten/Dean Greyling, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Ulrich Beyers, 22 Clayton Blommetjies.
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Referees: Pro Legoete, Francois de Bruyn
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee
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