PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round 10
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The scramble for places in the top four on the Currie Cup log will heat up even more this weekend as the countdown to the end of the pool stages intensifies with only five rounds of matches remaining, including this weekend.
In the weekend's first match on Friday, the Sharks travel to Kimberley to take on Griquas before Western Province face the Pumas in an intriguing encounter in Nelspruit later on the same day.
The big match of the weekend is on Saturday with the Golden Lions hosting the Blue Bulls in Johannesburg.
The Free State Cheetahs have a bye in Round 10.
We take a look at all the Round 10 action!
Friday, September 15:
Griquas v Sharks
(Kimberley Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
In the first match of the weekend on Friday in Kimberley, the Sharks will be determined to register their eighth victory of the season when they meet Griquas, while the hosts will be desperate to bounce back after four successive defeats.
The KwaZulu-Natalians have a solid track record against their Kimberley counterparts with the side having won five of their last six matches dating back to 2013.
However, they will be wary of the fact that Griquas have toppled them a few times on their home patch.
The Sharks team shows five personnel changes, with prop Juan Schoeman and hooker Franco Marais starting a new-look front row, while wing Odwa Ndungane and centre Marius Louw have also been handed starts.
Griquas also made five changes, which includes George Whitehead starting at flyhalf, while prop Stephan Kotze and lock Jonathan Adendorf are drafted into the run-on team.
"We chatted about how tough this fortnight of matches was going to be, especially since we were up against two teams who play an abrasive style of rugby," said Sharks head coach Robert du Preez.
"Our players showed a lot of character to grind out a win against the Pumas and the positive contribution from our bench has to be applauded.
"The Griquas will follow a similar approach and are always difficult at home. Discipline is going to be important.
"We are proud of the fact that we're undefeated in seven matches. Despite this achievement, there is still so much more that this team is capable of.
"We are entering the business end of this competition and it’s time for us to take our performances up another gear. The hunger and passion amongst this group of players is evident and the players need to translate that into a complete performance."
2017: Sharks won 41-3, Durban
2016: Sharks won 46-24, Durban
2015: Sharks won 45-20, Kimberley
2014: Griquas won 21-18, Durban
Prediction: The Sharks lost a few players to injury, but they will still have too much firepower for Griquas. The Sharks to win by 10 points.
Griquas: 15 Adriaan Coertzen (captain), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Kyle Steyn, 12 Johnathan Francke, 11 Enver Brandt, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Renier Botha, 8 DeWet Kruger, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Pieter Janse van Vuren, 4 Jonathan Adendorf, 3 Stephan Kotze, 2 Abraham le Roux, 1 Nicolaas Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Liam Hendricks, 18 Sintu Manjezi, 19 Shaun McDonald, 20 Tiaan Dorfling, 21 Andre Swarts, 22 Eric Zana.
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Jean Droste, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Hyron Andrews, 19 Wian Vosloo, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Tristan Blewett, 22 Inny-Christian Radebe
Referee: Anselmi Federico (Argentina)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Mpho Matsaung
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Pumas v Western Province
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 19.15; 17.15 GMT)
Friday in Nelspruit will mark a very special occasion for two Springbok loose forwards when Western Province No.8 Nizaam Carr reaches his 50th Currie Cup cap, and Pumas replacement loose forward Hilton Lobberts could make his 150th first-class appearance if he gets a run off the bench.
The Pumas will look to end their eight-year losing run against the Capetonians in the competition when they cross paths at the Mbombela Stadium.
Both sides have struggled to build winning momentum this season, but with the visitors within range of working their way into second place on the log standings, and the Pumas still in the running for a possible place in the top four on the log, it promises to be an exciting clash.
Adding to the hosts' motivation to win, they come off back-to-back defeats by two and one point respectively, while the visitors will want to build on their morale-boosting 57-14 victory over the Free State Cheetahs last week.
In the Western Province team prop Michael Kumbirai replaces Wilco Louw who joined the Springboks in one of three personnel changes, with wing Seabelo Senatla and prop Jacobus Janse van Rensburg also starting.
The Pumas, in turn, made five changes, which sees the return of centre Gerrit Smith, scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer and lock Hugo Kloppers in the run-on team.
Western Province captain and lock Chris van Zyl said he was wary of the Pumas' powerful pack.
"The Pumas have a really sufficient mauling system and they are a real danger at the breakdown," Van Zyl told reporters.
"Throughout the week we have been working on those two factors. I feel like we have to curb that early in the game to prevent it from becoming a problem as the game progresses."
2017: Western Province won 34-19, Cape Town
2016: Western Province won 31-23, Cape Town
2015: Western Province won 50-19, Cape Town
2014: Western Province won 37-23, Nelspruit
Prediction: This is a really tough one to call. We will give it to the Pumas by five points or less.
Pumas: 15 Justin van Staden, 14 Jerome Pretorius, 13 Gerrit Smith, 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 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Frank Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Cameron Lindsay, 19 Brian Shabangu, 20 Hilton Lobberts, 21 Reynier van Rooyen, 22 Selom Gavor.
Western Province: 15 Craig Barry, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Ruhan Nel, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 John Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Michael Kumbirai, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Caylib Oosthuizen, 19 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Robert du Preez, 22 Werner Kok.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Ricus van der Hoven, Shemea Mushiribindi
TMO: Lesego Legoete
Saturday, September 15:
Golden Lions v Blue Bulls
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
The Golden Lions will be hunting their third successive victory on Saturday when they take on the Blue Bulls at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The Pretoria side have won three of the last four match-ups between the teams since 2014, although the Golden Lions won their last two home games, meaning it could be a thrilling clash.
The visitors, however, will have to hit the ground running as they come off a bye, which the hosts will want to capitalise on.
Fit-again Blue Bulls centre Burger Odendaal returns to captain the side in one of seven changes, which also sees Warrick Gelant reclaim the No.15 jersey and flank Nic de Jager and No.8 Jano Venter being included in the loose trio.
The Golden Lions, in turn, made only one personnel change to the starting team as lock Andries Ferreira returns following the birth of his child, while a notable inclusion on the bench is that of prop Dylan Smith, who last played in March due to injury.
Golden Lions head coach Swys de Bruin is well aware of John Mitchell's pedigree as a coach.
"We will have to be sharp," said De Bruin. "It will be an interesting game.
"We all know about Mitchell's coaching experience. However, Mitchell and myself are not on the field, it's the players that will be doing the job."
Meanwhile, Mitchell said his squad is still a work in progress ahead of the clash in Johannesburg.
"We used the bye week to further work on the aspects we need to improve on and grow as a team," Mitchell said.
"There are a couple of fundamentals that we need to change and that will never be achieved overnight. I am pleased that we did make some good progress, but that will obviously be tested this weekend against an opponent that has found some rhythm and momentum in the last couple of matches."
Captain Odendaal was also happy to be back for the Blue Bulls in time for Saturday's clash.
"We have suffered some injuries and that was not conducive to our momentum, but that is rugby for you," he said.
"I am happy to be back and looking forward to give my best. The team prepared well, but it is taking baby steps at this stage. The important thing is for us to show some improvement and progress."
2017: Blue Bulls won 54-22, Pretoria
2016: Blue Bulls won 31-17, Pretoria
2015: Golden Lions won 36-28, Pretoria
2014: Blue Bulls won 36-26, Pretoria
Prediction: The Golden Lions are hitting their straps at the right time in the competition and they will win by 12 points.
Golden Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Ashlon Davids, 9 Marco Janse van Vuren, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen (captain).
Replacements: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Fabian Booysen, 21 Shaun Reynolds, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi.
Blue Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Burger Odendaal (captain), 12 John Jackson, 11 Rabs Maxwane, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Jano Venter, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic De Jager, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Matthys Basson, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Tim Agaba, 19 Marco van Staden, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Manie Libbok, 22 Johnny Kotze.
Referee: Egon Seconds
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Damon Murphy
TMO: Willie Vos