PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round 11
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The pressure is set to rise significantly in the Currie Cup Premier Division this weekend as all seven participating teams still have a chance of securing semifinal berths in the competition with only four pool rounds remaining including this weekend.
The Free State Cheetahs and the Pumas kick-off the weekend's action on Friday in Bloemfontein.
There are two matches on Saturday - the Sharks will take on the Bulls at Kings Park in the early game before Western Province welcome Griquas to Newlands in the final game.
The Golden Lions have a bye in Round 11.
We take a look at all the Round 11 action!
Friday, September 22:
Free State Cheetahs v Pumas
(Free State Cheetahs, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.30; 15.30 GMT)
The Pumas will look to register their first Currie Cup victory against the Free State Cheetahs since 2014 when the sides meet at in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The hosts come off back-to-back defeats, while the Pumas will enter the match with confidence after toppling Western Province.
While a victory for either side will boost their chances of a semifinal berth, a defeat for the Free State Cheetahs could see them drop out of the top four, while the Pumas will be under pressure to fight for a semifinal berth in the next few weeks if they suffer a defeat.
The Free State Cheetahs' side features 11 personnel changes, among them the inclusion of BlitzBok Cecil Afrika on the wing, hooker Joseph Dweba and flyhalf Robbie Petzer.
Another Springbok Sevens star, Chris Dry, will again lead the team.
The Pumas made only two personnel changes, which sees hooker Frankie Herne and flank Brian Shabangu earn starts.
2017: Free State Cheetahs won 45-34, Nelspruit
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 52-10, Nelspruit
2015: Free State Cheetahs won 37-37, Nelspruit
2014: Pumas won 31-17, Bloemfontein
2014: Pumas won 28-21, Nelspruit
Prediction: The Free State Cheetahs have brought in a few experienced players for the clash, but we think the Pumas will still be too strong for them in Bloemfontein. The Pumas to win by 10 points.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Vuyani Maqina, 13 Ali Mgijima, 12 Lloyd Greeff, 11 Cecil Afrika, 10 Robbie Petzer, 9 Zee Mkhabela, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Chris Dry (captain), 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Dennis Visser, 3 Erich de Jager, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Gert Kotze.
Replacements: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Andrew Kuhn, 18 Jeremy Jordaan, 19 Nicolaas Immelman, 20 Juan-Philip Smith, 21 Jacobus Jonker, 22 Stephan Janse van Rensburg.
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 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stefan Willemse, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 Kwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Cameron Lindsay, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Hilton Lobberts, 21 Theo Maree, 22 Selom Gavor.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Jaco Kotze, Eon van Zyl
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
Date: Saturday, September 23:
Sharks v Blue Bulls
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
The Sharks will have their sights set on cementing their semifinal spot and strengthening their position at the top of the log when they meet the Blue Bulls in Durban on Saturday.
The visitors, in turn, will also be determined to register a victory to remain within a realistic range of working their way into the top four as the pool stages draw to a close.
The home team are on an eight-match winning run, while the Blue Bulls will be chasing their first win since September 1.
The Sharks have included Springbok squad members Mahlatse Ralepelle (hooker) and Daniel du Preez (loose forward), in the starting team in two of five changes to the side, following their release to play Currie Cup rugby.
New Bok squad member, scrumhalf Louis Schreuder, however, will miss the match due to a family commitment and has been replaced by Michael Classens.
The Blue Bulls, in turn, have named Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard among the replacements in a side that shows two changes to the starting team, with prop Conraad van Vuuren replacing Matthys Basson and winger Johnny Kotze taking over from Rabs Maxwane.
"It's great to be back in Durban to be playing at Kings Park after sucking oxygen for 80 minutes in Kimberley last week," said Sharks hooker Franco Marais.
"They have quite an expansive game plan, they run from kick-offs, from everywhere, so it's going to be a challenge, but the Bulls always rely on their strong, dominant forwards, so we as a forward pack know the match is going to be very physical."
Meanwhile, Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell believes his side will have to be at their very best to upset the home side.
"We are no doubt facing our biggest challenge of the season," Mitchell said.
"The Sharks have been in awesome form this year and to have to travel down to Durban to face them is not making it any easier. That said, this group is all about challenges and how we confront and handle them, so we are looking forward to the clash."
Mitchell was keen to see more improvement from the team.
"We are slowly starting to come to grips with a number of structural changes and for once, there is some continuity available in selection, something that was not possible earlier in the competition."
The team will again be captained by Burger Odendaal.
"We are working hard to adapt to a number of things and there was a positive approach to the work put in this week, so we now need to go down to Durban and show the improvements," Odendaal said.
2017: Sharks won 28-20, Pretoria
2016: Sharks won 26-19, Durban
2015: Blue Bulls won 17-13, Durban
2014: Sharks won 26-15, Pretoria
2013: Sharks won 18-16, Pretoria
Prediction: The Sharks are strong outfit and they are full of confidence. They should win by 12 points at least.
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Classens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 Tristan Blewett, 22 Rhyno Smith.
Blue Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Burger Odendaal (captain), 12 John Jackson, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Jano Venter, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Tim Agaba, 19 Marco van Staden, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant referees: Ruhan Meiring, Rodney Boneparte
TMO: Christie du Preez
Western Province v Griquas
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
Western Province will look to bounce back from their defeat last week and make amends for going down against Griquas in Kimberley in the first half of the competition when the sides meet at Newlands on Saturday.
The visitors are currently languishing at the foot of the log after four successive defeats, which makes a victory vital to keep alive their slim semifinal hopes, while the hosts will want to remain in the top four and in the running for a possible home semifinal.
Griquas' best result in Cape Town since the 1996 season was a draw in 2011, but they will have to step up their defence, in particular, to give Western Province a run, as they have conceded close to double the amount of points to the hosts so far in the competition.
Western Province bolstered their starting team with three returning national squad members, Dillyn Leyds, Damian de Allende and Wilco Louw, among six changes to the side that went down last week.
The clash will be particularly memorable for captain and lock Chris van Zyl, who will earn his 50th cap.
Griquas, in turn, made seven personnel changes, which features a new captain, flank Sias Koen, and a new-look front row with prop Devon Martinus and hooker Wilmar Arnoldi earning starts.
The WP coach, John Dobson, said that his team is looking forward to playing at Newlands again.
"We know that we have to raise our standards significantly and the players are excited to play at Newlands again," the coach said.
"It is great to have some players back from Springbok duty, but the focus is on delivering a convincing team performance."
2017: Griquas won 44-34, Kimberley
2016: Western Province won 52-31, Kimberley
2015: Western Province won 33-15, Cape Town
2015: Western Province won 43-19, Kimberley
2014: Western Province won 36-12, Cape Town
Prediction: Province have a few Springboks back and they are playing at home, so they should win by 15 points at least.
Western Province: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Werner Kok, 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 Chad Solomon, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Johan du Toit, 19 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 20 Justin Phillips, 21 Robert du Preez, 22 Ruhan Nel.
Griquas: 15 Eric Zana, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Kyle Steyn, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Enver Brandt, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Renier Botha, 8 Kevin Kaba, 7 Sias Koen (Captain), 6 De Wet Kruger, 5 Sintu Manjezi, 4 Jonathan Janse Van Rensburg, 3 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 2 Wilmar Arnoldi, 1 Devon Martinus.
Replacements: 16 Abraham Le Roux, 17 Liam Hendricks, 18 Shaun McDonald, 19 Conway Pretorius, 20 Christiaan Meyer, 21 Christopher Bosch, 22 Adriaan Coertzen
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Sinethemba Mrulwa
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans