PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Seven
CURRIE CUP SPOTLIGHT: The burning desire to stay in the running for semifinal berths will be a key driving force in the Currie Cup Premier Division this weekend.
In a thrilling climax to the Currie Cup eight of the nine Premier Division teams still have at least a mathematical chance of advancing to the semifinals, although this number is expected to be reduced following the weekend’s matches.
On Friday, the Blue Bulls take on the Griquas at Loftus Versfeld. On Saturday, the Sharks host the Eastern Province Kings at Kings Park, while Western Province welcome the Pumas in the round's final game.
*The Free State Cheetahs take on the Golden Lions at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Thursday.
We take a look at Round Seven's action!
Friday, September 16:
Blue Bulls v Griquas
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
In Pretoria, the Blue Bulls will be looking to build on their convincing victories against the Pumas and Golden Lions when they meet Griquas on Friday, but they will face tough competition as the Kimberley side come off four back-to-back victories.
Griquas pipped the Blue Bulls 39-38 in the Currie Cup Qualifiers, but the men from Pretoria have won the last five match-ups between them in the Premier Division.
The last time Griquas defeated the Blue Bulls was back in 2012.
Fuelling both team's motivation to win, the victorious side will finish this round in the top four on the log, which is invaluable given the fact that there are only two pool matches remaining following the weekend's matches – with the Blue Bulls sitting out one of these rounds.
Blue Bulls captain Hanro Liebenberg agreed that the game against the Griquas on Friday is shaping up to be of vital importance in the battle for the play-off place.
"I had a chat with the team and most of the guys realise that this is probably the most important game of the season with the log being so tight at the top," said Liebenberg.
"It's a must-win for us, it's an important game and we need to take confidence and momentum out of this game."
The Bulls did well against the Pumas, in stopping their big ball carriers from getting over the advantage line and Liebenberg added that the Griquas will also bring plenty of brawn to the game on Friday.
"That's something we identified during the week against the Pumas. They [Pumas] have good loose forwards carrying the ball and I think this weekend is going to be the same.
"Griquas are a physical pack and it’s going to be vital for us as the loose forwards to stop their momentum," he said.
Prediction: Both teams are in good form at the moment, so at the end of the day it comes down to home ground advantage for us. Expect the Blue Bulls to win by at least 10 points.
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 Roelof Smit, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rudolph Snyman,3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Jason Jenkins, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Bjorn Basson/Divan Rossouw.
Griquas: 15 Adriaan Coertzen (captain), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Johnathan Francke, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg, 4 Mzwanele Zito, 3 Stephan Kotze , 2 Abraham Le Roux, 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Devon Martinus, 18 Wandile Putuma, 19 Jonathan Adendorf, 20 Renier Botha, 21 Andre Swart, 22 Eric Zana.
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant referees: Stephan Geldenhuys, Jaco Pretorius
TMO: Johan Greeff
Saturday, September 17:
Sharks v Eastern Province Kings
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00)
The Sharks will target their clash against the EP Kings in Durban to return to winning ways and remain ahead of the chasing pack for a home semifinal following defeats against the Free State Cheetahs and Western Province.
The Port Elizabeth side have yet to win a match this season, while the last time the defeated the Sharks was in 1999.
The visitors, however, have suffered defeats of eight points or less in their last three matches against the Durbanites, which will motivate them going into the clash.
"Both our remaining fixtures are important and we will not be taking Eastern Province lightly," said Sharks head coach Robert du Preez.
"They showed what they were capable off against the Bulls and we cannot afford to be complacent.
"There is a lot to still play for and our preparation has gone well. We need to execute our opportunities and stick to our structures."
With just three rounds left, the EP Kings have not given up hope of a win in this year's tournament and head coach Barend Pieterse believes the Sharks will be under a bit of pressure after their recent form.
"At the end of the day, our goal is always to win a match and to be competitive. I don't think our goals will change for the remaining matches," said Pieterse.
"They [Sharks] are under a bit of pressure in terms of the two matches that they have lost. They will be targeting us for five points, but they also picked up a few injuries in the last few weeks.
"I think the game will be played in wet/rainy conditions and I think they will try to take us on up front in the mauls and in the scrums."
Prediction: Expect the Sharks to bounce back from their recent defeats and beat the EP Kings by at least 20 points.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Inny-Christian Radebe, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Francois Kleinhans, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle (captain), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Patrick Lambie, 22 Neil Maritz.
Eastern Province Kings: 15 Lungelo Gosa, 14 Siwivive Soyizwapi, 13 Burton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Pieter Steyn de Wet, 9 Ricky Schroeder (captain), 8 Christiaan de Bruin, 7 Brandon Brown, 6 Vincent Jhobo, 5 Sebastian Ferreira, 4 Dylan Pieterse, 3 Justin Forwood, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Barend Potgieter.
Replacements: 16 Warrick Venter, 17 Vukile Sofisa, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Luke van der Smit, 20 Vian van der Watt, 21 Minenhle Mthethwa, 22 Alcino Isaacs.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Archie Sehlako
TMO: Willie Vos
Western Province v Pumas
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
Western Province will enter their clash against the Pumas in Cape Town under immense pressure to register a convincing victory to remain in the race for a semifinal berth following a disappointing start to the competition with only two victories in five matches.
The 2015 runners-up are currently in sixth position on the log with three matches remaining and will be fighting for survival in the next few weeks.
History favours the Capetonians who have won all their matches against the Nelspruit side dating back to the 2000 season.
However, with the Pumas still hunting their first win in the competition and the side facing the prospect of having to win all their remaining matches with bonus points to keep alive their faint hopes of a semifinal berth, they will give everything.
Despite the Pumas' record in this year's Currie Cup Premier Division, Western Province head coach John Dobson is under no illusions about the challenge his team faces at Newlands.
"We played up there is the Currie Cup qualifiers and we won it, but we had a hard game against them," said Dobson.
"They are very big and physical and they are a very similar team to the one that won the Vodacom Cup last year.
"I am sure they would also be the first guys to admit they have been disappointed with where they are. I just hope they come here and are not too desperate."
Meanwhile, Pumas head coach MJ Mentz said that his team's run of five losses stems from a lack of execution rather than the wrong game plan.
"There hasn't been a single game where we feel we correctly executed the things we do in training," said Mentz.
"We've done a lot of work on set pieces in training as this is an area which has let us down.
"We'll also look to keep the ball in hand and play with some freedom."
Prediction: Western Province will have too much firepower for the Pumas at Newlands and should win by at least 15 points.
Western Province: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Werner Kok, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Kobus van Dyk, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Chris van Zyl (captain), 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Sithembiso Sithole, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Scott van Breda.
Pumas: 15 Williams Devon, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 Hoffman Maritz, 12 Hennie Skorbinski, 11 Jean-Paul Lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Emile Temperman, 8 Renaldo Bothma (captain), 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Louis Albertse, 2 Frank Herne, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Heinrich Steyl, 22 Tyler Fischer.
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Francois Pretorius
TMO: Shaun Veldsman