PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Nine
CURRIE CUP SPOTLIGHT: A gripping weekend awaits rugby fans in the Currie Cup as four former champions will be fighting for survival in the Premier Division as the pool rounds come to a close.
The Sharks, Western Province, Golden Lions and Griquas will enter their Currie Cup matches with one objective in mind: to win at all costs and in some cases with a bonus point to give themselves the best possible chance to secure one of the two remaining semifinal berths.
The Golden Lions and Sharks will meet first in the Premier Division match of the weekend on Friday at Ellis Park in what can be billed as the main clash of the weekend. A victory for the Durbanites will guarantee them a spot in the top four, while a bonus-point win could earn them a home semifinal. A defeat without a bonus point, however, could see them drop out of the competition.
Later on Friday, Western Province will host Boland at Newlands, and to the home team's delight, they will know exactly what they need to do to secure a semifinal berth by the time they take to the field.
Griquas, who are currently in sixth place on the standings with a slight mathematical chance of securing a semifinal berth, meanwhile will meet log-leaders, the Free State Cheetahs, in Bloemfontein in the final match on Saturday, and similarly to Western Province, they will know if they still have a chance to sneak into the semifinals by the time their match kicks off.
We take a look at all the Round Nine action!
Friday, September 30:
Golden Lions v Sharks
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
The Golden Lions and Sharks will enter their match in Johannesburg with the mindset that a victory is non-negotiable.
A victory for the hosts and defending champions could earn them their sixth semifinal in a row and allow them to maintain their unbeaten run at home this season.
But they will face a determined KwaZulu-Natal outfit, who can still secure a home semifinal if they win with a bonus point, but they could also drop out of the competition if they suffer a defeat without a bonus point or two.
The Johannesburg side defeated the Sharks 53-16 in the Currie Cup Qualifiers and they have won three of their last four matches at home against the Durbanites – two of these victories, however, were by eight points or less.
Interestingly, both teams come off convincing victories against the Eastern Province Kings, but the home team will have the luxury of momentum after playing last weekend, while the Sharks had a bye.
Lions head coach Johann Ackermann believes the added pressure attached to the game against the Sharks will bring out the best in his players.
"We have only one goal in mind and that is to win," Ackermann told reporters at a press conference in Johannesburg.
"The Sharks will be coming at us with everything they have especially on the technical side. We are happy to play the last match against one of the better teams in the competition, which will give us the opportunity to bring the best out of us."
Meanwhile, Sharks head coach Robert du Preez believes accuracy will play a big role in determining the winner on Saturday.
"We approaching this match as a quarterfinal and we want to win," said Du Preez. "It's going to come down to discipline and taking opportunities.
"We are under no illusions about the enormity of the task and respect our opposition. However, our focus is on sticking to our structures and game plan."
Sharks captain Keegan Daniel shared his coach's sentiments.
"We see this as a quarterfinal and it is the same for them," said Daniel. "They had a really good year of rugby and they carried some of that form over from Super Rugby to the Currie Cup."
Prediction: It is the biggest game of the weekend and there is a lot at stake. The Sharks have a few experienced players back for the clash, but they might struggle to match the Lions intensity at Ellis Park. Expect the Lions to win by 12 points or less.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Albertus Smith (captain), 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Cyle Brink, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Howard Mnisi, 22 Sylvian Mahuza.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Inny-Christian Radebe, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Stephan Lewies/Jean Droste, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Garth April, 22 Wandile Mjekevu.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse, Stephan Geldenhuys Stephan
TMO: Willie Vos
Eastern Province Kings v Pumas
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium - Kick-off: 18.00; 16.00 GMT)
The EP Kings and Pumas will both be determined to end their season with a victory in Port Elizabeth after suffering defeats in all their matches so far.
In the nine Currie Cup Premier Division matches between the sides since 1996, the EP Kings have won two games – one in 2014 and the other in 1998. Both of these victories were in Port Elizabeth, with the last win being by a single point.
The Pumas will enter the match with superior statistics to the EP Kings on attack and defence, while they will draw confidence from the fact that they have secured two bonus points for suffering defeats by seven points or less and three for scoring four tries or more, while the hosts only earned a bonus point for tries.
"We are extremely hungry for a win and the new guys coming this week realise the importance of getting that win," said Pumas head coach MJ Mentz.
"The Kings have played some good rugby in the first half of every game this season and will be just as hungry as us. Obviously, it's never nice to be involved in a bottom-of-the-log clash but there's still a lot to play for."
Heinrich Steyl is leaving the Pumas to pursue his studies in accountancy. Renaldo Bothma, who has captained the team since the early stages of the season, will also wear the pink jersey for the last time as he takes up a full-time contract with the Blue Bulls.
"It was a great privilege to have both of these talented rugby players on board and we wish them every success for the future. We hope we can send them off with a win," Mentz commented.
Prediction: The Pumas will have just a little bit more quality on the field and should win by at least 10 points.
Eastern Province Kings: 15 Johan Tromp, 14 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 9 Ricky Schroeder (captain), 8 Christiaan de Bruin, 7 Sebastian Ferreira, 6 Brandon Brown, 5 Dylan Pieterse, 4 Mthetheleli Fuzani, 3 Vukile Sofisa 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Barend Potgieter.
Replacements: 16 Warrick Venter, 17 Pieter Stemmet, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Luke van der Smit, 20 Cullen Callopy, 21 Vian van der Watt, 22 Lungelo Gosa.
Pumas: 15 Davon Williams, 14 Tyler Fisher, 13 Hoffman Maritz, 12 Leighton van Wyk, 11 Jean-Paul Lewis, 10 Heinrich Steyl, 9 Emile Temperman, 8 Renaldo Bothma (captain), 7 Carel Greeff, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Jeremy Jordaan, 3 Louis Albertse, 2 Frank Herne, 1 DeJay Terblanche.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Marne Coetzee, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 Reuben Johannes, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Deon Helberg, 22 Ruwellyn Isbell
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant referees: Rodney Boneparte, Christie du Preez
Western Province v Boland
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 19.10, 17.10 GMT)
In Cape Town, Western Cape neighbours Western Province and Boland will meet at Newlands in a vital match for the hosts, who have to win the match to secure a semifinal berth, and possibly with a bonus point depending on the outcome of the Johannesburg match.
Given the intense rivalry between the teams, the home side is expected to face tough competition as Boland will be playing for pride in their final match of the season.
Boland have defeated Western Province three times in the Currie Cup since 1998 - the last time being in Wellington in 2007. However, their last victory at Newlands was in 1998.
WP coach John Dobson said that with a place in the Currie Cup semifinals on the line, his team will look to embrace the occasion as they host their near neighbours at Newlands.
"We know that our play-off fate is in our own hands, so the players are really motivated to continue on the upward curve we have been on in the last few weeks.
"Boland will pose a number of different challenges, and they certainly will not lack for motivation themselves, so it should make for a great match to watch at Newlands," he said.
Prediction: Western Province are riding a wave of confidence after their crucial win over Griquas last week and will have too much firepower for their Cape rivals. Expect Western Province to win by 25 points at least.
Western Province: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Scott van Breda, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Damian de Allende, 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 Mike Willemse, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 JP Smith, 19 Dave Ribbans, 20 Jurie van Vuuren, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Werner Kok.
Boland Cavaliers: 15 Adriaan Carelse, 14 Logan Basson, 13 Gerrit van Wyk, 12 Petrus Vermeulen, 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Theuns Kotze, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Zandré Jordaan, 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 Hanno Kitshoff, 4 Shaun McDonald, 3 Francois Hanekom, 2 Clemen Lewis (captain), 1 Basil Short.
Replacements: 16 Francois Esterhuyzen, 17 Enoch Mnyaka, 18 Linda Thwala, 19 Wayne Wilschut, 20 Joubert Horn, 21 Gerhard Jordaan, 22 Sergio Torrens
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds, Francois Pretorius
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Saturday, October 1:
Free State Cheetahs v Griquas
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT)
The clash between the Free State Cheetahs and Griquas could serve as a thrilling finish to the pool stages of the competition depending on the outcome of Friday's matches.
While the hosts will look to register their eighth successive victory and maintain their unbeaten run, Griquas may still have hope of sneaking into the semifinal – although this will require Western Province and the Golden Lions to suffer defeats.
History favours the Free State Cheetahs, who last suffered a defeat against Griquas in the competition in 2011. But Griquas will draw confidence from the fact that they defeated the hosts 44-31 in Kimberley in the Currie Cup Qualifier.
Regardless of the outcome, the home team will host a home semifinal next week as they have already secured the top spot on the log table.
Prediction: The home side will not want to lose any momentum heading into the play-offs and should win by 20 points at least.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Francios Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques Du Toit, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Willem Serfontein, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 William Small-Smith.
Griquas: 15 AJ Coertzen (captain), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Renier Botha, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Mzwanele Zito, 4 Jonathan Adendorf, 3 Liam Hendricks, 2 Marius Fourie, 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Sidney Tobias, 17 Devon Martinus, 18 Steven Meiring, 19 Thabo Mabuza, 20 Eric Zana, 21 Ntabeni Dukisa, 22 Steven Moir.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Jaco Kotze
TMO: JJ Wagner