Cheetahs bring out the big guns
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith wasted no time in drafting in some big guns for their penultimate Currie Cup league match.
The table-topping Cheetahs travel to Nelspruit on Friday to take on the winless Pumas.
Captain Francois Venter returns at outside from a lengthy injury lay-off, with Nico Lee moving to inside centre and William Small-Smith dropping down to the replacement bench.
Sergeal Petersen returns on the right wing after also missing a number of matches through injury.
Smith, who made it clear he will not be resting any players in the run-in to the play-offs, made a number of injury-enforced changes.
Tom Botha underwent surgery his week, after having torn his bicep in the 37-29 win over the Golden Lions last Thursday. Johan Coetzee will start at tighthead prop.
Hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld injured his rib cartilage against the Lions and Jacques du Toit will wear the No.2 jersey.
The third injury-enforced change will see Raymond Rhule sit out with a calf strain and Ryno Benjamin playing on left wing.
In the only change not related to injury - a player coming back or being ruled out - Charles Marais will replace Retshegofaditswe Nche at loosehead prop.
The Cheetahs coach said there was a "huge danger" in resting players at this stage of the season, despite his team having already booked their place in the Currie Cup play-offs.
The unbeaten Cheetahs require just two points from their last two league matches - against the Pumas this week and the Griquas a week later - to secure the top spot in the standings, which will guarantee them home ground advantage in the semifinals and possible Final.
"It is a short Currie Cup competition [just eight matches for each team] and it is important to maintain our momentum and improve the quality of our game," Smith told rugby365.
"We will continue to field the best available team.
"One or two players will get some game time to ensure that, when we get to the play-offs, everybody had enough game time."
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 William Small-Smith.
Date: Friday, September 23
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Kick-off: 18.45 (16.45 GMT)
Referee: Lesego Legoete
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Ricus van der Hoven
TMO: Johan Greeff
By Jan de Koning