PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Eight
IN THE SPOTLIGHT It will be a decisive weekend for the seven Currie Cup Premier Division teams in the hunt for possible semifinal berths and those in with a chance of earning home semifinals as well.
A handful of teams will enter their matches in the Currie Cup this weekend knowing that a defeat could deal a killer blow to their hopes of advancing to the play-off stages, while for some of them, bonus-point victories could bolster their home semifinal hopes.
For the Blue Bulls, in particular, their clash against Boland in Wellington on Friday will mark their final throw of the dice in the competition for now, as it marks their final pool match. This means they will have to wait until the pool stages concludes next week to know their fate in the competition.
We take a look at Round Eight's action!
Friday, September 23:
Boland v Blue Bulls
(Boland Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
In Wellington, Boland will go in search of their third victory of the season when they line up against the Blue Bulls.
The Western Cape outfit defeated the Pretoria side 35-26 in the Currie Cup Qualifiers, but they will be tested this week as the Blue Bulls come off back-to-back victories against Griquas, the Pumas and Golden Lions.
The Pretoria side has won all 10 matches between the sides since 1996, with their scores in seven of these matches being 50 points or more.
Adding spice to the clash, it will mark the Blue Bulls' last pool match. While a bonus-point victory with a big points' difference could catapult them into second place on the log standings with a chance of securing a home semifinal, a defeat could see them lose out on a semifinal berth completely.
"If we get four points, I think that we will definitely be in the semifinal," said Blue Bulls head coach Nollis Marais
"If we get five points we qualify for a home semifinal depending on what happens between the Sharks and the Golden Lions, so for us at the moment, it's just making sure that we get the four points and making sure we get into a semifinal, because if we lose on Friday we might miss out totally.
"Obviously we are not going down to Boland to lose, but that's also a permutation. For us, it's go for the win and then go for the five points and then see if we can get a spread on the game as well."
Marais added: "For me, I don't want players to chase scores this weekend. I want players to go for the win, play how we want to play in the Final and make sure that we stick to what we are doing well at the moment.
"I think the bonus-point will come if we stick to the things that we are doing well and then hopefully it works out for us to get a home semifinal, which will be great."
Prediction: The Blue Bulls will have too much class for Boland and they will win by 15 points at least.
Boland: 15 Adriaan Carelse, 14 Logan Basson, 13 Gerrit van Wyk, 12 Christopher Bosch, 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Theuns Kotze, 9. Marnus Hugo, 8 Zandré Jordaan, 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Keenan Cronje, 5 Joubert Horn, 4 Shaun McDonald, 3 Basil Short, 2 Clemen Lewis (captain), 1 Stephanus Wessels.
Replacements: 16 Francois Esterhuyzen, 17 Enoch Mnyaka, 18 Francois Hanekom, 19 Wayne Wilschut, 20 Hanno Kitshoff, 21 Gerhard Jordaan, 22 Robbie Louw.
Blue Bulls: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Bjorn Basson, 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 Bandise Maku, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Jason Jenkins, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Divan Rossouw.
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Aimee Barrett
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans
Pumas v Free State Cheetahs
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 18.40; 16.40)
The Pumas will face a challenging task against the Free State Cheetahs in Nelspruit, as they attempt to deny the visitors from extending their winning run to seven matches.
In turn, the Pumas will be looking for a change of fortunes after suffering six straight defeats.
Interestingly the hosts have had an edge over Free State Cheetahs recently, with the side winning the Currie Cup Qualifier and both matches in the 2014 Currie Cup Premier Division, while they drew 37-37 in the competition last season.
However, given the Free Staters solid form this season, with the team scoring the second highest number of tries and leaking only 13 in six matches, the Pumas will be tested.
Pumas head coach MJ Mentz said that he was happy with the attacking ability showed by his side in the 23-31 away loss to Western Province, but they will have to make improvements in defence to counteract the explosive Cheetahs.
"We'll be looking to strike a better balance between attack and defence this week.
"The Cheetahs pose a huge attacking threat and love to run the ball from their own half, so it's vital that we make our one-on-one tackles.
"The guys are definitely more confident after their performance in Cape Town so we’ll be carrying that positivity into the game too," Mentz said.
Meanwhile, Free State Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith will be wanting his team to fine tune their game ahead of the play-offs.
"I am still not totally happy with our defence and we are giving a lot of attention to our work in the tight phases. We are looking to correct the little things.
"The Pumas are playing their last match at home and they were unlucky not to win yet this year. I think it will be very important for them to get a win [in front of their home fans] so we are expecting a tough match on Friday.
Prediction: The Pumas have struggled all season, while the Cheetahs are the form team in the competition. The Cheetahs will win with a 15-point margin.
Pumas: 15 Heinrich Steyl, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 Hoffman Maritz, 12 Hennie Skorbinski, 11 Jean-Paul Lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Kevin Luiters, 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 DeJay Terblanche, 18 Jeremy Jordaan, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Devon Williams, 22 Tyler Fisher.
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.
Referee: Lesego Legoete
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Ricus van der Hoven
TMO: Johan Greeff
Griquas v Western Province
(Griqua Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
The clash between Griquas and Western Province is expected to be thrilling with an eye on the semifinal stages.
Griquas are currently in fourth place on the log table with 19 points, only one point ahead of Western Province with two matches remaining.
The Free State Cheetahs, Sharks and Blue Bulls, however, are above them on the log, meaning a defeat for either team could deal a huge blow to their semifinal hopes.
Griquas have won all of their home games so far this season, while they will be determined to bounce back from their first defeat in five matches last weekend.
Boosting their motivation, they will have the support of almost 300 former players who will attend the match as part of the union's 130-year anniversary celebrations.
Western Province, meanwhile, come off a victory against the Pumas, but with three victories in six matches, they will be under pressure to find their form to keep alive hopes of advancing to the semifinal for their eighth successive season.
The Cape side is targeting 10 points from their final two games to ensure their spot in the last four.
"If we want to get into the top four we need 10 points," said Western Province assistant coach Russell Winter.
"If we get nine points then it all depends on the Sharks and Lions game [Round Nine] and obviously we don't want to leave it there.
"We want to go all out and get our 10 points and 10 points is enough to get us in and that is what we are going to play for.
"Obviously we want to win the games first, but if we want to guarantee our spot in the semifinals we need 10 points."
Prediction: It is the game of the weekend and there is a lot riding on the result. Griquas are a tough nut to crack at home and they will be highly motivated for the occasion, but we think Western Province will sneak it by less than five points and with a four-try bonus point.
Griquas: 15 AJ Coertzen, 14 Jacobus Jonker, 13 Johnathan Francke, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Ederies Arendse, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Wandile Putuma, 4 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Stephan Kotze, 2 Abraham le Roux, 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacement: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Devon Martinus, 18 Jonathan Adendorf, 19 Jason Fraser, 20 Renier Botha, 21 Andre Swarts, 22 Eric Zana.
Western Province: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Chris van Zyl (captain), 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 JP Smith, 19 Dave Ribbans, 20 Jurie van Vuuren, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Johnny Kotze.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Jaco Kotze
TMO: Marius Jonker
Saturday, September 24:
Eastern Province Kings v Golden Lions
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - Kick-off: 17.10; 15.10 GMT)
In Port Elizabeth, the EP Kings will face the sixth-placed Golden Lions, who find themselves fighting for survival in the competition.
The hosts have not won a match this season, and they will throw everything at the Johannesburg side.
However, the Golden Lions are expected to target the clash for a bonus-point victory as the EP Kings have struggled on defence this season.
Should the visitors suffer a defeat, it could dash their semifinal hopes. The teams registered a 35-35 draw in the Currie Cup Qualifiers, but they have won all of their Premier Division matches against the EP Kings dating back to the 1996 season, which should boost their confidence as they look to bounce back from their defeat against log-leaders, the Free State Cheetahs.
Lions head coach Johann Ackermann believes their match against the Kings is a perfect opportunity to make up for lost points during their campaign.
"We let it slip a bit in the games that went past," said Ackermann. "If we didn't win, we missed out on the bonus-point, so the next few weeks are going to be important, but we can only control Saturday [match against the Eastern Province Kings].
The points are up for grabs, but it's not going to be easy. We play them [Eastern Province Kings] down there [Port Elizabeth] and they've shown a lot of heart and a lot of intent in this Currie Cup, so we have to go out and be quite clinical. The guys know what to do and we must just get back to those structures."
Albertus Smith has been named captain of the Golden Lions team for the encounter and the 23-year-old is determined to lead by example.
"It's a huge honour for me to lead the team and I think I'm not going to do something out of the ordinary," Smith told reporters on Thursday. "I'm just going to play my game and lead by example and Ross Cronje [scrumhalf] and Howard Mnisi [inside centre] are going to help me with the plays and everything and we going to do it together as a team."
Prediction: If the Golden Lions find their rhythm it could get ugly in PE. Expect the Golden Lions to win by 25 points at least.
Eastern Province Kings: 15 Johan Tromp, 14 Alcino Izaacs, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 9 Ricky Schroeder (captain), 8 Christiaan de Bruin, 7 Brandon Brown, 6 Luke van der Smit, 5 Sebastian Ferreira, 4 David Antonites/Tazz Fuzani, 3 Pieter Stemmet, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Justin Forwood.
Replacements: 16 Cullen Collopy, 17 Vukile Sofisa, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Vince Jobo, 20 Vian van der Watt, 21 Lungelo Gosa, 22 Johan Greyling.
Golden Lions: 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Antony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Albertus Smith (captain), 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Cyle Brink, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 22 Andries Coetzee.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Egon Seconds
TMO: Christie du Preez