PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Seven
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Sharks will look to stretch their Currie Cup winning streak to five matches on Saturday when they meet Western Province in Cape Town in one of the main Round Seven Premier Division match-ups.
The KwaZulu-Natalians suffered a disappointing first-round defeat against the Free State Cheetahs, but they have not looked back and have won four matches since – three of which have been convincingly.
They will, however, face a determined Capetonian outfit on their home ground, and with back-to-back wins in the bag, they will also enter the match with confidence and winning momentum.
In Friday's match, the Pumas host the Blue Bulls at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, while the Free State Cheetahs take on the Golden Lions in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
We take a look at all the Round Seven matches!
Friday, August 25:
Pumas v Blue Bulls
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
In Mpumalanga, the Pumas will be determined to build on their victory Kimberley, while the Blue Bulls will be desperate to bounce back from three consecutive defeats.
The Pretoria side have won all five of the Currie Cup matches between these teams since 2011, with four of their victories away from home.
The Blue Bulls, who will be under the guidance of newly-appointed coach John Mitchell, will be led by No.8 Nic de Jager, in a team that shows four personnel changes to last week.
Centre John Thomas Jackson and prop Lizo Gqoboka will earn their first starts for the team, while Johannes Prinsloo returns to the loose trio in the No.6 jersey.
The Pumas kept faith in the starting team that toppled Griquas. However, there was one enforced change with flank Thembelani Bholi replacing Chris Cloete, who could start on the bench as he is recovering from a bout of flu.
"The Bulls are a team that have a lot of experience with a brand of rugby that is being developed by John Mitchell," said Pumas head coach Brent Janse van Rensburg.
"They are certainly looking to keep the ball in hand and playing with tempo and they are trying to lift the intensity of the way they play.
"It will be very important for us that we contain Piet van Zyl at scrumhalf. He attacks well and can break well and he keeps you busy around the fringes and we need to make sure we stop the Bulls' momentum.
"If they get momentum there - carries with quick ruck ball - then that will aid their backs to get in the game."
Mitchell will be looking at this game as a starting point in getting the Blue Bulls back to a competitive level.
"We have started a process to take responsibility and ownership of performances and to take the Blue Bulls back to respected levels of competitiveness," said Mitchell.
"We have a long way to go, but there will be no excuses. Hard work will be one of the main aspects behind this drive, but after three losses, we will also have to find the desire to win again."
2016: Blue Bulls won 41-14, Nelspruit
2015: Blue Bulls won 25-24, Nelspruit
2014: Blue Bulls won 37-6, Nelspruit
Prediction: The Pumas are not an easy team to beat in Nelspruit. However, the Blue Bulls are under pressure after their recent losses and the players will be looking to impress John Mitchell. The Blue Bulls will win this one by seven points or less.
Pumas: 15 Gerrit Smith, 14 JP Lewis, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Hennie Skorbinski (captain), 11 Ruwellyn Isbell, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Francois Kleinhans, 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Thembelani Bholi, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stefan Willemse, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Mark Pretorius 1 Kwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Frank Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Cameron Lindsay, 19 Chris Cloete/Brian Shabangu, 20 Willie Engelbrecht, 21 Reynier van Rooyen, 22 Kobus Marais.
Blue Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 John Thomas Jackson, 11 Kefentse Mahlo, 10 Tony Jantjies, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Nick de Jager (captain), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Johannes Prinsloo, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Abongile Nonkontwana, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jan-Henning Campher, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Clyde Davids, 19 Jano Venter, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Johnny Kotze.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Paul Mente, Des van Wyk
TMO: Willie Vos
Saturday, August 26
Western Province v Sharks
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 15.00, 13.00)
Western Province will be hunting their third straight win when they meet the Sharks in Cape Town, but they will face a challenge from the KwaZulu-Natalians, who won their last four games.
The fact that the visitors won three of the last five matches between the sides in the Mother City, which included the 2013 Currie Cup Final, will boost their confidence.
The Sharks made six personnel changes to their team, two of which were injury enforced, which sees scrumhalf Louis Schreuder, winger Jacobus van Dyk and fullback Inny-Christian Radebe earn starts, while former Junior Springbok captain and centre Jeremy Ward also returns.
Western Province on the other made only two personnel changes, with scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage replacing Jano Vermaak, who joined the Springbok squad, while Ruhan Nel will start on the wing and Dillyn Leyds at fullback in the absence of the injured Sarel Marais.
"We identified that this game will be a little bit different than the last two weeks. The [Blue] Bulls have changed how they play, so the Bulls and [Golden] Lions are quite similar," said Western Province head coach John Dobson.
"We expect this to be probably more physical and probably flatter. With the Lions and the Bulls they try and get real width and real tempo.
"We see the Sharks as a more traditional South African team with gainline [play] and a kicking game, so that's a different threat.
"We will be tested defensively in terms of the directness on the gainline because if they get momentum they are very dangerous and I think they are very clever where they play their rugby on the field. We know there is a kicking threat coming and we know there is a physical threat on the gainline."
Meanwhile, Sharks wing Jacobus van Wyk is not only thrilled to be back in action after missing his side's win over the Lions, but also back at Newlands where he played all his previous rugby before making the move to the Sharks.
"It's good to be back at Newlands where I played all my life," he explains. "I'm not sure if the crowd will give me the bird [being a former WP player], but I hope they do. I'm quite keen to play against them."
He admits that the team is in a good head space given the on-field successes of late.
"There are some energetic youngsters and there's an awesome vibe in the camp as we grow together - there's a culture here of mixing together outside of rugby and we're in a good place right now.
"We're hoping to build on the momentum we've created and progress to the Final."
2016: Western Province won 34-27, Cape Town
2015: Western Province won 37-27, Durban
2014: Sharks won 28-20, Cape Town
Prediction: Western Province have improved drastically since their loss to Griquas. John Dobson's side will also be at home for this big clash and that is why Province will win by 10 points or less.
Western Province: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Ruhan Nel, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 John Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Michael Kumbirai, 18 Eddie Zandberg, 19 Stephan de Wit, 20 Justin Phillips, 21 Robert du Preez, 22 Dan Kriel.
Sharks: 15 Inny-Christian Radebe, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Lukhanyo Am, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Jean Droste, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Wian Vosloo, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Rhyno Smith, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds, Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Free State Cheetahs v Golden Lions
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
The clash between the Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions in Bloemfontein will mark a repeat of last year's Currie Cup semifinal, which the hosts won 55-17.
The Gauteng outfit may have lost the last two matches against the defending champions at home, but they will draw inspiration from their success in the Free State in the past with wins in 2015, 2014 and 2012.
The Free State Cheetahs made wholesale changes to their team, with three Springbok Sevens players included in the squad as Rosko Specman will start and Ryno Benjamin and Cecil Afrika will play off the bench.
The Golden Lions' starting XV only features three new faces, with Ashlon Davids starting at flyhalf, while Sylvian Mahuza takes over on the right wing and James Venter will start in the No.6 jersey.
Golden Lions head coach Swys de Bruin said Davids reminded him a lot of Elton Jantjies.
"Ashlon is training well," said De Bruin.
"He deserves maybe a chance, he's got all the skills, he's got a lot of Elton's skills. He talks well and communicates well.
"We are using this campaign, apart from doing well in the Currie Cup, to look at our depth for Super Rugby."
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 55-17, Bloemfontein (semifinal)
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 37-29, Bloemfontein
2015: Golden Lions won 43-33, Johannesburg (semifinal)
Prediction: It is a tough one to call. The Cheetahs have made quite a few changes to their team again, while there is some continuity in the Golden Lions line-up, despite the recent form. We think the Lions will edge this one by five points.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Sergeal Petersen, 14 Rosko Specman, 13 William Small Smith, 12 Ali Mgijima, 11 Mkazole Mapimpi, 10 Robbie Petzer, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan (captain), 7 Gerhard Olivier, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 17 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 18 Rynier Bernardo, 19 Jasper Wiese, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Ryno Benjamin, 22 Cecil Afrika.
Golden Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Antony Volmink, 10 Ashlon Davids, 9 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 James Venter, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Jacques van Rooyen (captain), 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Rhyno Herbst, 19 Hacjivah Dayimani, 20 Bradley Thain, 21 Nicolaas Hanekom, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi.
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant referees: Jaco Kotze, Darren Colby
TMO: Johan Greeff with Lourens van der Merwe