Preview: Currie Cup, Round Three
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Round Three matches serve as extended and exciting curtain raisers to the Springboks' opening Rugby Championship Test against Argentina.
The Free State Cheetahs, Sharks and Golden Lions will attempt to protect their unbeaten status.
It will be a special week of Currie Cup action for veteran Griquas prop Steph Roberts.
Roberts will match the union's record of earning 161 caps across all competitions, while he will also extend his Currie Cup record of 84 matches for the union.
Three of the four Currie Cup matches will be played on Friday.
The Boland Cavaliers will host the Sharks in Wellington in the first match, which will be followed by clashes between Western Province and the Free State Cheetahs in Cape Town, as well as the Blue Bulls and Eastern Province Kings in Pretoria respectively.
On Saturday, Griquas host defending champions, the Golden Lions, in Kimberley.
The Pumas have a bye.
All the Round Three matches:
Friday, 19 August
Boland Cavaliers v Sharks
(Boland Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
Boland will have everything to play for as they attempt to register their first victory against the Sharks in several years.
In the 13 matches between the teams since 1996, the KwaZulu-Natalians are yet to lose.
The hosts, however, come off a confidence-boosting victory against the EP Kings, while they also have the luxury of home ground advantage.
But they will have to replicate the solid defensive effort they displayed last week and capitalise on their point-scoring chances effectively to stop the Sharks who come off consecutive bonus-point victories.
Sharks lock Stephan Lewies said the men from Durban will have to front up against a Boland team that has a "physical" pack.
"Players like [lock] Shaun McDondald and [other] former Varsity Cup players give their pack a physical edge," the Sharks second row forward said.
"Boland are a quality side and when they play at home they step it up a bit.
"No doubt, we will have to be on top of our game."
Lewies said the Sharks must concentrate on what they do best.
"If we can improve on last Saturday's performance [a win over Griquas] and execute well we will be okay."
Prediction: Obviously Boland have an outside chance of an upset, but the smart money is on a comfortable Sharks win - by 15 to 20 points.
Boland Cavaliers: 15 Nico Scheepers, 14 Sergio Torrens, 13 Christopher Bosch, 12 Ryan Nell (captain), 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Adriaan Carelse, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Zandré Jordaan, 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 Hanno Kitshoff, 4 Shaun McDondald, 3 Basil Short, 2 Francois Esterhuizen, 1 Stephanus Wessels.
Replacements: 16 Clemen Lewis, 17 Abongile Mnyaka, 18 Francois Hanekom, 19 Joubert Horn, 20 Kenan Cronje, 21 Jovelian de Koker, 22 Theuns Kotze.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Heimar Williams, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lubabalo Mtembu, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 JC Astle, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Hanco Venter, 21 Wandile Mjekevu, 22 Garth April.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Rodney Boneparte, Aimee Barrett
TMO: Willie Vos
Western Province v Free State Cheetahs
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.10; 15.10 GMT)
The clash between Western Province and the Free State Cheetahs is expected to be exciting as the biggest winning margin in their last six matches has been only seven points.
The Free Staters will enter the match with confidence following a convincing victory last weekend over the Blue Bulls, but they will face a home team determined to secure their first win of the season after going down in Pretoria in the opening round.
The home team will have the luxury of an Olympic bronze medallist on their bench in the exciting Cheslin Kolbe.
Province coach John Dobson said his team will be looking for "redemption" after the heavy defeat they suffered against the Blue Bulls in the opening round.
Last week's bye may not have helped those players who struggled because of a lack of gametime.
"It is going to be a very tough game for us this week," he said of the encounter with the men from Bloemfontein.
"The Cheetahs are very close to their Super Rugby side," the WP coach said, adding: "We know we are up against it this week.
"It does give us our chance of redemption.
"If we do manage to turn them over we have washed off [the loss to the Blue Bull at] Loftus Versfeld."
However, they are up against a Cheetahs team that is bringing a lot of momentum over from Super Rugby.
Despite impressive wins over Boland and Bulls, Cheetahs coach Franco Smith felt there are still plenty of work to do.
"Super Rugby is less forgiving than Currie Cup and the lessons we learnt in Super Rugby has been taken to heart," Smith said.
"We need to improve our defence still and we are losing the contact contest," he added.
Prediction: It is not as easy, or straightforward, to call as it seems. Yes, the Cheetahs are in form and Province were very ordinary in their opening match. However, this game is at Newlands and that often counts for a lot. We feel the Cheetahs may win it, but the margin will be in single digits.
Western Province: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Brandon Thomson, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Chris van Zyl (captain), 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Martin Ferreira, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Godlen Masimla, 21 Robert du Preez, 22 Cheslin Kolbe.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Williams Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Michael van der Spuy.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Stephan Geldenhuys, Paul Mente
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans
Blue Bulls v Eastern Province Kings
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 19.20; 17.20)
The Blue Bulls will have their sights set on returning to their winning ways against the EP Kings, after a disappointing performance last week.
The men from Port Elizabeth have only beaten them once in the Currie Cup competition since 1997, and that was back in 2002 when they won 50-48.
The EP Kings challenged the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup qualifiers and went down only 14-19, but with their new-look team getting together only last week, they are expected to be tested this week.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais warned against complacency ahead of a game the men from Pretoria are expected to win quite comfortably.
"They are unpredictable as a team, so we will have to be sharp and focused," Marais said.
"And expect the unexpected. We will, however, make sure we play the way we want to play and execute well, rather than dwell too much on how the opposition will play."
Blue Bulls captain, Arno Botha, said the team is looking for some consistency.
"We certainly had a dip in standards last week," he said of the loss to the Cheetahs - after starting the season with an impressive win over Western Province.
"We are playing at home again and that brings an edge to any Blue Bulls player, but we also have to be more consistent than last week.
"Soft moments certainly cost us in Bloemfontein. It went well in training, so we are keen to get back on the winning horse again."
Kings coach Barend Pieterse said he was expecting a tough game against the Bulls at Loftus.
"We can expect a very physical confrontation up front, with the backline looking at spreading the ball wide and gaining momentum," he said.
Pieterse said the team had focused on what their strengths were and would continue working on them as the season progressed.
"We could spend the whole week just focusing on defence in preparation for the Bulls game, but it is important that we focus on improving on areas where we lacked in our previous game and growing from that," he said.
Pieterse added that the team had also spent some time on team building during the week.
"There is a great spirit among the players at the moment and it is important that we keep that going, as it is going to be a tough season for us," he said.
Prediction: You have to feel sorry for the Kings. They have been forced, through boardroom politics, to play in a competition where they are likely to be outclassed all season. The Bulls will win by at least 25 points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Duncan Matthews, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha (captain), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Entienne Swanepoel, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Irne Herbst, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Joshua Stander.
Eastern Province Kings: 15 Johan Tromp, 14 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 13 Burton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Kobus Marais, 9 Ricky Schroeder (captain), 8 Christiaan de Bruin, 7 Sebastian Ferreira, 6 Vince Jobo, 5 David Antonites, 4 Tazz Fuzani, 3 Vukile Sofisa, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Justin Forwood.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Barend Potgieter, 18 Ettienne Oosthuizen, 19 Luke van der Smit, 20 Jacques Fick, 21 Minenhle Mthethwa, 22 Lungelo Goza.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Ruhan Meiring
TMO: Johan Greeff
Saturday, 20 August
Griquas v Golden Lions
(Griqua Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 14.10; 12.10)
Griquas will go flat out to end their five-match losing run against the Golden Lions.
Prop Steph Roberts' special milestone of matching the union's record of the most matches played (161), set by Andre van Wyk between 1984 and 1995, is expected to serve as extra motivation for the hosts, whose last victory against the Lions was in Kimberley in 2012.
The hosts will be particularly wary of the visitors' skill on attack, which earned them 10 tries last week against the Pumas, meaning their defence will have to be solid to keep alive hopes of a victory.
The Lions will relish the firm surface likely to greet them in Kimberley, as they look to continue their exciting expansive brand of rugby.
Assistant coach Swys de Bruin said they realise that "fresh legs" will be key on Saturday.
"Griquas have a very workman-like set of forwards," De Bruin said of the defending champions' trip to Kimberley.
"They have some tough players who grind you.
"However, probably the most dangerous aspect is that this is their first home game in the competition this year.
We simply can't underestimate them.
"We will have to very sharp."
Prediction: The Lions, despite missing almost an entire first-choice team (through Springbok call-ups and other players heading abroad), still looks to have too much class. They should win by about 12 points.
Griquas: 15 Adriaan Coertzen, 14 Jacobus Jonker, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 RJ Liebenberg, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg, 4 Sias Koen, 3 Stephan Kotzé, 2 Abraham le Roux, 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Devon Martinus, 18 Mzwanele Zito, 19 Stephan Vermeulen, 20 Renier Botha, 21 André Swart, 22 Eric Zana.
Lions: 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Nicolas Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi (co-captain), 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje (co-captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Steph de Wit, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Bobby de Wee, 19 Ruaan Lerm, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Jacques Nel.
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant referees: Mpho Matsaung, Darren Colby
TMO: JJ Wagner
Sources: @rugby365com & SA Rugby