PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Eight
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Sharks and Free State Cheetahs will go head-to-head for the top spot on the log in the Currie Cup in a match that could give the winning side a vital nudge as the second half of the competition kicks off.
The first match of the weekend sees Griquas travel to Pretoria to take on the Blue Bulls and on Saturday the Golden Lions host the Pumas at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The weekend's final match sees the Sharks take on the Cheetahs.
After going down to the Sharks last weekend at Newlands, Western Province will have a bye in Round Eight.
We take a look at all the Round Eight action!
Friday, September 1:
Blue Bulls v Griquas
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
Griquas will be looking to end a five-year Currie Cup losing run against the Blue Bulls when they cross paths at Loftus Versfeld.
The hosts will be desperate to bounce back after four back-to-back defeats.
The last time the men from Kimberley beat the Blue Bulls was in 2012, but with both sides having won only two matches this season, the clash could prove to be a tight tussle.
Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell made wholesale changes to his team with only six players - Lizo Gqoboka, Ruben van Heerden, Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager, John Thomas Jackson and Warrick Gelant – retaining their places in the starting team that went down against the Pumas, while the Griquas retained their key combinations in starting XV that showed five personnel changes.
"Nothing has really been decided in terms of last week's form," said Mitchell.
"It is pretty obvious that we conceded five tries through one area and we got to sort out our discipline and we got to learn to work hard for each other."
Micthell added: "There will certainly be consequences for players going forward in terms of not being reliable in that area [discipline]. Likewise, for core skills - all those things are changing.
"We are in transition and one can't be a miracle worker in terms of changing bad habits within seven days, but certainly over a period of time we will get there."
2017: Blue Bulls won 51-45, Kimberley
2016: Blue Bulls won 57-20, Pretoria
2015: Blue Bulls won 46-32, Kimberley
2015: Blue Bulls won 36-12, Pretoria
2014: Blue Bulls won 46-12, Pretoria
Prediction: After the Blue Bulls' performance last week we are tempted to give this one to Griquas. However, there is a lot of pride at stake in Pretoria and John Mitchell has surely given his players a tongue-lashing. The Bulls will win this one by seven points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 John Thomas Jackson, 11 Rabs Maxwane, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Nic de Jager (captain), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Aston Fortuin, 3 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Jano Venter, 19 Tim Agaba, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Tony Jantjies/Tinus de Beer, 22 Franco Naude/Stedman Gans.
Griquas: 15 Adriaan Coertzen (captain), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Johnathan Francke, 11 Koch Marx, 10 Andre Swarts, 9 Christiaan Meyer, 8 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 4 Floris Pelser, 3 Stephan Kotze, 2 Wilmar Arnoldi, 1 Liam Hendricks.
Replacements: 16 Abraham Le Roux, 17 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 18 Jonathan Adendorf, 19 De Wet Kruger, 20 Renier Botha, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Eric Zana.
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant referees: Ruhan Meiring, Jaco Kotze
TMO: Willie Vos
Saturday, September 2:
Golden Lions v Pumas
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT)
The Golden Lions will look to bounce back from three successive defeats when they take on the Pumas in Johannesburg on Saturday.
But they will face tough competition as the visitors are high on confidence after two wins – one of which was a 51-point score against the Blue Bulls.
The Golden Lions team shows a number of personnel changes, amongst them the return of Ryan Kankowski and Madosh Tambwe to the starting team, while the bench has been boosted with the inclusion of Springbok Sevens player Branco du Preez.
The Pumas, meanwhile, made only two injury-enforced changes with loose forward Willie Engelbrecht and flyhalf Kobus Marais replacing Francois Kleinhans and Justin van Staden respectively.
"The Pumas are mauling very well at the moment," said Lions head coach Swys de Bruin.
"They are not disrupted, they don't have Springboks, they have a core group of players that played all year.
"They are really riding high now, they are a dangerous side. They gave Griquas a good hiding in Kimberley and then they gave the Bulls a 50, so they are a very solid team and we know that."
Meanwhile, Pumas head coach Brent Janse van Rensburg will not be underestimating De Bruin's side.
"The Lions are obviously gaining momentum," said Janse van Rensburg. "They are getting better every week and they are not to be underestimated. They got a really good team, although there are some youngsters in that side.
"They still got experience in Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Harold Vorster - two centres that live off getting momentum and we got to make sure that we contain them on the day.
"The Lions are a team that like to change direction, so numbering up in defence will be really important for us. They like to play to the edge and always looking for two sides to attack."
2017: Pumas won 43-36, Nelspruit
2016: Golden Lions won 68-26, Johannesburg
2015: Golden Lions won 41-11, Nelspruit
2015: Golden Lions won 44-27, Johannesburg
2014: Golden Lions won 29-15, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Pumas are missing some key players, while the Lions have gained a few big names for the clash. We will see the Golden Lions return to winning ways with a 14-point victory.
Golden Lions: 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Manual Rass, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Ashlon Davids, 9 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Fabian Booysen, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen (captain).
Replacements: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Branco du Preez, 22 Jaco van der Walt.
Pumas: 15 Gerrit Smith, 14 Jean-Paul Lewis, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Hennie Skorbinski (captain), 11 Ruwellyn Isbell, 10 Kobus Marais, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Thembelani Bholi, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stefan Willemse, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Mark Pretorius, 1 Kwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Frankie Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Cameron Lindsay, 19 Brian Shabangu, 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Reynier van Rooyen, 22 Neil Maritz.
Referee: Egon Seconds
Assistant referees: Ruhan Meiring, Eduan Nel
TMO: Johan Greeff
Sharks v Free State Cheetahs
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 16.15; 14.15 GMT)
The clash in Durban is expected to be the match-up of the weekend as both sides have won five of their six matches up to now.
After starting the season with a defeat in the first round against the Free Staters, the Sharks are on a winning run of five matches. The Free State Cheetahs will, in turn, be hunting their third victory in a row.
The Sharks have had an edge over the Free State Cheetahs in recent years in Durban, where they won four of their last five matches dating back to 2012, but the defending champions will draw inspiration from their victory in Durban last season.
The Sharks made five personnel changes to their run-on team – three of which were injury-enforced – which sees a new front row selected, while Keegan Daniel returns to the loose trio and wing Tythan Adams, a former Gold Cup star, will make his debut.
The Free State Cheetahs, in turn, have named a completely new team with the Pro14 side also in action, with Springbok Sevens player Chris Dry leading the side, while former Junior Springbok forward Junior Pokomela also earns a start.
Despite losing to the Cheetahs earlier in the season, Sharks star Inny-Christian Radebe says there has been no talk of revenge.
"We aren't revengeful at all, we just want to build on the past five weeks. We have some nice momentum going and we’d like to build on that," he explains.
"We'll take positives out of the Western Province game and work on the things we lacked in that game, one of which was creating lots of opportunities but not finishing them."
2017: Free State Cheetahs won 47-12, Bloemfontein
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 38-30, Durban
2015: 34-all draw, Bloemfontein
2014: 30-all draw, Bloemfontein
2014: Sharks won 19-16, Durban
Prediction: It will be a comfortable win for Robert du Preez's side. The Sharks will win by 20 points or more.
Sharks: 15 Inny-Christian Radebe, 14 Tythan Adams, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Lukhanyo Am, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Wian Vosloo, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Marius Louw, 22 Garth April.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Reinhardt Erwee, 14 Carel-Jan Coetzee, 13 Jacobus Jonker, 12 Stephan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Ryno Eksteen, 9 Juan-Philip Smith, 8 Japer Wiese, 7 Chris Dry (captain), 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Dennis Visser, 4 Nicolaas Immelman, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Gert Kotze.
Relacements: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Andrew Kuhn, 18 Sibabalo Qoma, 19 Ntokoza Vidima, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 Dian Badenhorst, 22 Marco Mason.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse, Archie Sehlako
TMO: Marius Jonker