PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Six
CURRIE CUP PREMIER DIVISION: There are two key fixtures in Round Six of the Currie Premier Division this weekend.
The Golden Lions and Western Province meet in a repeat of last year's Final on Friday, while the Sharks and Free State Cheetahs go head-to-head in a table-topping clash on Saturday.
These matches will take centre stage in what is expected to be a thrilling round, which could see a few changes on the log standings as the final stages draw closer.
In weekend's other match, the Pumas will be looking for their first win of their campaign when they face the Blue Bulls at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Saturday.
*Griquas take on Boland in Kimberley on Thursday.
We look at Round Six's action!
Friday, September 9:
Golden Lions v Western Province
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
The clash between the Golden Lions and Western Province at Ellis Park is expected to be thrilling.
The home team have gone down to their Cape rivals only once in Johannesburg since 2012 and it is expected to inspire them to return to their winning ways after their defeat against the Blue Bulls.
Western Province, however, come off a morale-boosting victory against the Sharks, which ended the Durbanites' unbeaten run, and they will be aware of the fact that another big scalp could boost their campaign and catapult them into the top four on the log table despite a disappointing start to the season.
Golden Lions head coach Johan Ackermann said he is expecting a big battle up front.
"They [WP] took a lot of confidence out of the win [34-27 victory over Sharks last weekend].
"I think they took a lot of confidence from their packs' performance and they’ve got dangerous guys on the outside and Cheslin Kolbe at the back, so I think it's going to be a nice high tempo game.
"Our set-phase has to be good, because with JC Janse van Rensburg [Western Province loosehead prop] and those guys, they are quite solid up front and they've shown that they can contest the line-outs, so that's going to be a big challenge for us.
"I do believe that is going to be critical. Our set-phase and hopefully our attack will be much more accurate than what it was in the last week or two," said Ackermann.
Meanwhile, Province head coach John Dobson said his team will have to be smart if they are to leave Johannesburg with a win.
"Our game management has to be extremely sharp," said Dobson.
"The Lions take so much pride in their conditioning and we are playing at altitude, so we have to be a bit smarter."
Prediction: Western Province showed a lot of improvement against the Sharks, but the Golden Lions at home is a different prospect. Expect the Lions to win by at least five points.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Selom Gavor, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje (captain), 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Andries Ferreira, 19 Cyle Brink, 20 Ruaan Lerm / Steph de Wit, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Western Province: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Werner Kok, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Kobus van Dyk, 7 Jurie van Vuuren, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Chris van Zyl (captain), 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jacques Vermeulen, 20 Eital Bredenkamp, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Scott van Breda.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Eduan Nel
TMO: Johan Greeff
Saturday, September 10:
Sharks v Free State Cheetahs
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
The Sharks and Free State Cheetahs will meet in a table-topping clash at Kings Park on Saturday in what is expected to be an epic battle.
The Free Staters are the only unbeaten team in the series, while the Sharks will look to bounce back from their first defeat of the season last week.
The hosts have not suffered a defeat against the Free State Cheetahs in the Currie Cup Premier Division since 2011, while their last home defeat against the opposition was back in 2009.
Interestingly, their last two Currie Cup matches ended in draws. The Bloemfontein outfit, however, won the Currie Cup Qualifier earlier this season 19-13.
Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane is well aware of what a confident Cheetahs team can do on the field
"It is going to be tough. They have won four out of four and they have continuity from Super Rugby and it is more or less the same team.
"It is a top-of-the-table clash and there is a lot at stake and those are the games you want to play.
"We had a look at what went wrong in Cape Town and I think we learnt a lot from that. We have looked at what we need to fix and what we need to get right and we are looking forward to a tough game against the Cheetahs," said Ndungane.
Free State Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith has called for a strong defensive effort from his team ahead of the clash in Durban.
"The Sharks are as dangerous as any other team in the competition - they have a lot to play for," said Smith.
"I know [Sharks CEO] Gary Teichman and [coach] Robert du Preez very well and I know they have set themselves lofty goals this season
"They are in front of their home crowd and will be very determined.
"Our defence still requires a lot of attention and it is a work in progress. We will also tweak some things in our own game."
Prediction: It will be a close one, but expect the Sharks to return to winning ways with a five-point win.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Inny-Christian Radebe, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt (captain), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Wandile Mjekevu, 22 Rhyno Smith..
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Justin Basson, 19 Niell Jordaan, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Niel Marais, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Rodney Boneparte
TMO: Marius Jonker
Pumas v Blue Bulls
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
In the final match of the weekend, the Pumas will go flat out to register their first victory of the season when they line up against the Blue Bulls at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
The men from Pretoria have been dominant against the Pumas over the years, with their track record showing only two defeats against the Lowvelders in the Currie Cup Premier Division since 1997 – in 2010 and 2001 respectively.
But earlier this year the Pumas emerged 25-13 victors in the Currie Cup Qualifier, and if they are going to repeat that victory, they will have to deliver a solid performance against the Blue Bulls who have registered confidence-boosting victories against the Golden Lions and Western Province this season.
Pumas head coach MJ Mentz said his team would like to give their home fans something to cheer about on Saturday.
"The guys are really hungry for a win," said Mentz. "We've worked extremely hard and owe it to ourselves and our supporters.
"The Bulls are always wary of us at Mbombela Stadium because we've beaten them here several times.
"It's going to be a hard and physical task but every time we play the Bulls it automatically acts as motivation to up our game."
Blue Bulls head coach Nollis Marais wants his team to prove to the critics that they are capable of delivering two great performances back-to-back.
"We are playing our most important match of the season, so I am happy to have a side with a fair bit of momentum and consistency in selection," Marais said.
"Consistency is of paramount importance for us at this stage of the season as we are yet to deliver two back-to-back performances of note.
"The Pumas would have targeted this game as a must-win, but we are also pretty desperate for a second win on the trot."
Prediction: The Blue Bulls have too much quality and will take this one by at least 15 points.
Pumas: 15 Williams Devon, 14 Bernardo Botha, 13 Hennie Skorbinski, 12 Marlou van Niekerk, 11 Jean-Paul Lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Emile Temperman, 8 Renaldo Bothma (captain), 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Wiehan Hay, 3 Marne Coetzee, 2 Frank Herne, 1 De Jay Terblanche.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Louis Albertse, 18 Stephan Greeff, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Leighton Van Wyk, 22 Ruwellyn Isbell.
Blue Bulls: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (captain), 7 Nic de Jager, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Irné Herbst, 19 Roelof Smit, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Divan Rossouw.
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant referees: Stephan Geldenhuys, Marnus Meiring
TMO: Willie Vos