PREVIEW: Free State Cheetahs v Golden Lions
CURRIE CUP SEMIFINAL: The Free State Cheetahs have had a dream season so far in this year's Currie Cup Premier Division with eight wins from eight.
The Bloemfontein side are only two victories short of their 11-match winning record which they set in 2007. The last time they featured in the Currie Cup Final was in 2009.
They are, however, expected to face tough competition against the Golden Lions, who will be hunting their third successive final berth.
The Lions finished fourth on the standings after five wins and three losses, but they are still a team with more than enough firepower to knock over the Cheetahs at the Free State Stadium.
Free State Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith believes the Golden Lions will be hard to beat with all the Super Rugby experience they have in the team.
"The Lions are definitely a good outfit," said Smith. "They all have Super Rugby experience and some of them are training with Super Rugby finalists, so they got a very good group of players. ... I think they will be just as good as they were throughout the season."
Smith added: "I think the tight phases are going to be important.
"I think the Lions will want to scrum good and I am sure they will want to win possession at the line-outs, so the fight for possession will be important for both teams."
Meanwhile, Golden Lions head coach Johan Ackermann believes the Cheetahs' unbeaten record in this year's tournament might put the home side under more pressure on Saturday.
"It is something that can play in the back of your mind and if you lose the game that unbeaten streak actually means nothing," said Ackermann.
"Obviously it's a great moment for them, playing at home in front of their home crowd, so they will be highly motivated and I do believe Franco [Smith] will want them to play the way they've played for the whole campaign."
The Lions have not had the best of tournaments this year, but Ackermann knows what his players are capable of.
"We must have confidence. I do believe the guys realise we still a good team.
"I don’t want to say it again but as the tournament progressed the team got better as we didn't have the preparation time," Ackermann added.
Players to watch:
For Free State Cheetahs: Centre Nico Lee has been a revelation in the midfield for the Bloemfontein side with ball in hand and he could cause the Lions' defence all sorts of problems with partner in crime Francois Venter. Scrumhalf Shaun Venter is one of the best scrumhalves in the country at the moment, while flyhalf Niel Marais has the ability to unleash his outside backs with his great distribution. Up front, Paul Schoeman is one of the hardest working players on both attack and defence, while prop Retshegofaditswe Nche has shown some great skill in open play for a tight forward.
For Golden Lions: Hooker Malcolm Marx is a tough guy to bring down when he has momentum. Loose forward Albertus Smith is a livewire in open play and he is also a menace at the breakdown with his Sevens skills. Centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg always seems to cross the advantage line when he runs at defences and his midfield partner Jacques Nel has plenty of speed in that outside centre channel. Scrumhalf Ross Cronje is another player who has been playing with a lot of confidence recently and his game management will be crucial.
Head to head: The two scrumhalves, Shaun Venter and Ross Cronje, have been playing some great rugby during the course of the tournament and they will both be influential to their team's chances on Saturday. In the midfield, Nico Lee and Rohan Janse Van Rensburg will both be looking to get the upper hand over each other and prove a point to the national selectors. The scrums will also be a key battle in this game and it will be interesting to see how Retshegofaditswe Nche goes against Julian Redelinghuys.
2016: Cheetahs won 37-29, Bloemfontein
2015: Lions won 43-33, Johannesburg (Currie Cup semifinal)
2015: Lions won 73-31, Bloemfontein
2014: Lions won 47-7, Johannesburg
2013: Cheetahs won 26-23, Bloemfontein
2013: Cheetahs won 30-29, Johannesburg
2012: Lions won 38-23, Bloemfontein
2012: Lions won 43-20, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions also met in the Currie Cup semifinal last season in Johannesburg – a clash the hosts won 43-33 – however, the Free Staters have won both matches against the Johannesburg side this season. They registered a 37-29 victory in Bloemfontein in the Currie Cup pool stages and defeated them 29-15 in Johannesburg in the Qualifiers. History, however, suggests that it could be a hard-fought clash, as the Bloemfontein side has won only two of their last five matches against the Golden Lions at home in the competition. Their last victory before this year's pool rounds was in 2013. Adding to this, the Free State Cheetahs' five home victories amongst the sides between 2007 and 2010 were decided by six points or less. It should be an exciting encounter with a lot of running rugby. The Cheetahs have been fantastic this year and we think they will just edge it by five points or less.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francios Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 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 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacement: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Ryno Benjamin, 23 Conrad Van Vuuren.
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 Fabian Booysen, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus Smith (captain), 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Ruan Ackermann, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Francois de Klerk, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Date: Saturday, October 15
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be a hot and cloudy day with a high of 32C. There will also be a strong wind blowing during the course of the day.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman, Rodney Boneparte
TMO: Marius Jonker