PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Two
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Currie Cup Premier Division will step into a new gear this weekend, with Western Province kicking off their campaign, while three teams will look to bounce back from first round defeats.
Western Province, who were losing semifinalists last season, will meet the defending champion Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Sunday in their opening match of the season after having a bye last week.
The Golden Lions, Griquas and the Sharks will be determined to make up for disappointing starts to the season.
The Golden Lions will host Griquas at Ellis Park in the opening match of the weekend on Saturday, while the Sharks will meet the Pumas at Kings Park later in the day.
The Blue Bulls have a bye.
We take a look at all the Round Two action!
Saturday, July 29:
Golden Lions v Griquas
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 12.00; 10.00 GMT)
Griquas will field a vastly different side to the one that went down in a high-scoring match at Loftus Versfeld last week, with seven new personnel.
Experienced flyhalf George Whitehead starts and captain Adriaan Coertzen switches from fullback to wing, while the efficient Eric Zana takes over the No.15 jumper.
The Golden Lions team also shows six changes from last week's run-on side, which sees scrumhalf Dillon Smit replace the injured Marco Jansen van Vuren.
Flank Robert Kruger return from injury, while centre Jacques Nel, fullback Jaco van der Walt, wing Anthony Volminck and prop Justin Ackerman were drawn into the starting team with.
After going down at home last week, the Northern Cape side is expected to bounce back with intent, but they will expect tough competition from a Golden Lions side also licking their wounds after their narrow seven-point defeat last week.
2016: Griquas won 30-24, Kimberley
2015: Golden Lions won 29-19, Johannesburg
2014: Golden Lions won 46-8, Kimberley
2013: Golden Lions won 35-28, Johannesburg
2013: Golden Lions won 38-32, Kimberley
Prediction: It will be hard out there, but the Golden Lions will win it by 10 points or less.
Golden Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Jarryd Sage, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Ryan Kankowski (captain), 7 Robert Kruger, 6 James Venter, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Justin Ackerman, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Andrew Beerwinkel, 18 Bobby de Wee, 19 Hacjivah Dayimani, 20 Bradley Thain, 21 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom.
Griquas: 15 Eric Zana, 14 Adriaan Coertzen (captain), 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Enver Brandt, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Christiaan Meyer, 8 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Pieter Janse van Vuren, 4 Floris Pelser, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 Marius Fourie, 1 Liam Hendricks.
Replacements: 16 Abraham Le Roux, 17 Devon Martinus, 18 Mzwanele Zito, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Renier Botha, 21 Ederies Arendse, 22 Jonathan Francke.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Jaco Pretorius, Vusi Msibi
TMO: Marius Jonker with Lesego Legoete
Sharks v Pumas
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
Pumas head coach Brent Janse van Rensburg was forced to make three injury-enforced changes to his team, which will see a new flank combination of Thembelani Bholi and Lambert Groenewald start, while the absence of centre Ryan Nell has resulted in a backline reshuffle and the inclusion of winger Jean-Paul Lewis.
The coach expected a hard-fought forward battle against the Sharks, who have loaded their team with Vodacom Super Rugby players following the conclusion of their campaign last week, with flyhalf Curwin Bosch, prop Thomas du Toit, hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, and loose forward-twins Jean-Luc and Daniel du Preez, among others being named in their run-on side.
Their return is expected to inspire the KwaZulu-Natalians to register their first victory of the season and to build momentum early on in the series after losing out on a semi-final berth last year.
"The players have taken a lot of positive energy from the past game, but we can't get too comfortable," said Janse van Rensburg. "We need to press the reset button. The Sharks are a very good team - they are very abrasive, physical and direct."
Janse van Rensburg added that it will be critical to contain the Sharks at set pieces.
"We will have to contain them in the set piece. The Sharks work hard in the contact areas defensively as they try to hold you up or hit you back and stir the breakdown area. Our ball carrier body height and work rate of the cleaners will be key to securing possession. Every player will need to execute their duties on the field in order to put together another good performance," he said.
Meanwhile, Sharks hooker Franco Marais is under no illusions that his team is going to face a fired-up side keen on inflicting damage on them.
"This game is going to be tough and challenging," said Marais. "But it's nothing we aren't ready for and we're keen and eager to get going."
2016: Sharks won 33-10, Nelspruit
2015: Sharks won 27-26, Durban
2015: Pumas won 33-24, Nelspruit
2014: Pumas won 32-22, Nelspruit
2014: Sharks won 34-17, Durban
Prediction: The Sharks have loaded their team with Super Rugby stars for this match and they are at home. The Sharks will win by 15 points.
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Lukhanyo Am, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Tyler Paul, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Inny Radebe.
Pumas: 15 Gerrit Smith, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Hennie Skorbinski (captain), 11 Jean-Paul Lewis, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Thembelani Bholi, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Jeremy Jordaan, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Marko Janse Van Rensburg, 1 Kwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Frank Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Jannie Stander, 19 Chris Cloete, 20 Reynier van Rooyen, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Devon Williams.
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant referees: Archie, Sehlako, Aimee Barrett-Theron
TMO: Johan Greeff
Sunday, July 30:
Free State Cheetahs v Western Province
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 14.30; 12.30 GMT)
Defending champions, the Free State Cheetahs, will be determined to use the winning momentum they built up in the opening round when they meet Western Province on Sunday.
The hosts have won the last two matches between the sides – one in Cape Town and the other in Bloemfontein - and interestingly, both of these victories have been by only seven points, meaning Sunday's clash could be another nail-biting encounter.
Free State Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan made four personnel changes to his team, which sees Springbok forward Teboho Mohoje join forces in the loose trio with Uzair Cassiem and Neill Jordaan, while wing Makazole Mapimpi and replacement back Malcolm Jaer will make their Currie Cup debuts for the Bloemfontein side.
Western Province will announce their team later on Friday, but with their Super Rugby campaign over, their side is expected to feature several players who were in action in the quarterfinal last week.
"WP are always competitive," Duncan told rugby365. "We're expecting a tough game in Bloem.
"[WP coach John] Dobson is a good coach and had impressive results in the National Provincial Challenge. Stormers/WP have always been good on the attack so we have prepped ourselves accordingly."
Mapimpi and Jaer will give the Cheetahs some added pace out wide.
"Our new recruits have settled in really well. They didn't take long to gain confidence in the Cheetahs family. I'm looking forward to seeing them wearing the Cheetah jersey for the first time this weekend," Duncan added.
Meanwhile, Dobson believes starting the competition with a bye this year was a positive for his team.
"It would have been the Provincial Challenge team in action this weekend. We saw what happened to the Lions when they went to the Pumas. So' am very grateful that we got a bye in the first round," said Dobson.
"I think the bye just probably avoided us what could have been possibly a defeat at the start of the season."
2016: Cheetahs won 32-25, Cape Town
2015: Cheetahs won 28-21, Bloemfontein
2015: Western Province won 9-3, Cape Town
2014: Western Province won 34-29, Bloemfontein
2013: Western Province won 15-14, Cape Town
Prediction: The Free State Cheetahs are a formidable side, especially at home and they will edge Western Province by seven points or less.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rosco Specman, 13 Francois Venter, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Neill Jordaan, 5 Daniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 17 Reinach Venter, 18 Rynier Bernardo, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Mthokozisi Mkhabela, 21 Ryno Benjamin, 22 Malcolm Jaer.
Western Province: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Michael Hazner, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 JD Shickerling, 4 Chris van Zy (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Steph de Wit, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Brandon Thomson.
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant referees: Jaco Kotze, Griffin Colby
TMO: JJ Wagner with Lourens van der Merwe