PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round 13
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The scramble for semifinal places in the Currie Cup Premier Division will reach boiling point in the penultimate pool round this weekend, with the results set to be decisive in the teams' top four aspirations.
All six sides taking to the field are still in the race for semifinal berths, and while victories will keep them in the running, defeats could deal the knock-out blow to the hopes of the teams at the foot of the log.
The Sharks, meanwhile, will enjoy their bye with peace of mind that they have already secured the top spot on the log table and an invaluable home semifinal.
We take a look at all the Round 13 action!
Friday, October 6:
Free State Cheetahs v Blue Bulls
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 18.15; 16.15 GMT)
The Free State Cheetahs and Blue Bulls will kick off the weekend's action in Bloemfontein on Friday where the hosts will be determined to bounce back from their defeat last week to remain in the top three on the log and in the race for a possible home semifinal.
But they will go up against a Blue Bulls team hurting from three back-to-back defeats and whose semifinal hopes will in all likelihood be dashed completely if they suffer another defeat.
The Cheetahs have won the last three match-ups between the sides in the competition, two of which were in Bloemfontein, but the visitors went down by one point against them in Pretoria earlier in the season, which they will want to make amends for. This includes last year's final in the Free State capital.
The Free State Cheetahs made five personnel changes to their team, which sees wings Cecil Africa and Jacobus Jonker earn starts. The match will be particularly significant for Jonker and fullback Clayton Blommetjies, as they will play their 100th and 50th Currie Cup matches respectively.
The Blue Bulls, in turn, opted for continuity in selection and named an identical starting team to last week, with the only change on the bench being prop Matthys Basson replacing Dayan van der Westhuizen.
"It is an important match for us, as we need to show more improvement and progress. The hard work is slowly paying off and now the processes and results must start coming together," said Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell.
Blue Bulls captain, Burger Odendaal, said the team is keen to play.
"Last weekend, despite the result, was a huge boost for us as we are getting more and more competitive every week and the progress and belief is getting better every week. That is very pleasing from a squad perspective and we are slowly but surely getting on the same page. That is very exciting to be part of," Odendaal said.
2017: Free State Cheetahs won 41-40, Pretoria
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 36-16, Bloemfontein (Final)
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 43-20, Bloemfontein
2015: Blue Bulls won 24-17, Pretoria
2015: Blue Bulls won 57-19, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Blue Bulls will be desperate, especially after their defeat to Western Province last week. The Bulls will win by eight points.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Jacobus Jonker, 13 Aliqhayiya Mgijima, 12 Lloyd Greeff, 11 Vuyani Maqina, 10 Robbie Petzer, 9 Mthokozisi Mkhabela, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Nicolaas Immelman, 6 Chris Dry (captain), 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Dennis Visser, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Johan Kotze.
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Gunther Janse van Vuuren, 18 Andrew Kuhn, 19 Jeremy Jordaan, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 Juan-Philip Smith, 22 Stephan Janse van Rensburg.
Blue Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Burger Odendaal (captain), 12 JT Jackson, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Nic de Jager, 7 Tim Agaba, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Ashton Fortuin, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Edgar Mautlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Jano Venter, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Tony Jantjies, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse, Darren Colby
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
Saturday, October 7:
Pumas v Griquas
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT)
In Nelspruit, the clash between the Pumas and Griquas on Saturday is expected to be equally thrilling, as a victory for the hosts could see them possibly work their way into the playoff contention or stay within pouncing distance of a top-four spot, while the visitors will desperate to win as a defeat will deal the killer blow to their hopes.
The men from Kimberley won three of their last four fixtures, while the Pumas emerged victorious in the outing between them in Kimberley in the first half of the competition.
Griquas, however, come off a morale-boosting victory against defending champions, the Free State Cheetahs, which they will want to build on, while they will also be fighting for survival, which could result in a nail-biting clash.
The Pumas made only one change to their starting team with hooker Marko Janse van Rensburg replacing Frankie Herne, who has been included among the replacements, while the Griquas made four personnel changes, which sees No.8 De Wet Kruger, lock Wandile Putuma, and wings Enver Brandt and Ederies Arendse earn starts.
2017: Pumas won 27-21, Kimberley
2016: Griquas won 41-35, Nelspruit
2015: Griquas won 32-15, Kimberley
2014: Griquas won 31-27, Kimberley
2014: Pumas won 33-15, Nelspruit
Prediction: We can't see the Pumas losing at home to Griquas. Pumas will win by 10 points.
Pumas: 15 Justin van Staden, 14 Jerome Pretorius, 13 Gerrit Smit, 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 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Kwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Frankie Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Cameron Lindsay, 19 Hilton Lobberts, 20 Francois Kleinhans, 21 Theo Maree/Reynier van Rooyen, 22 Selom Gavor.
Griquas: 15 Adriaan Coertzen (captain), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Johnathan Francke, 11 Kyle Steyn, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Christiaan Meyer, 8 De Wet Kruger, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 FP Pelser, 4 Wandile Putuma, 3 Stephan Kotze, 2 AJ Le Roux, 1 Liam Hendricks.
Replacements: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Marius Fourie, 18 Jonathan Adendorf, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Shaun McDonald, 21 Renier Botha, 22 Andre Swarts.
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant referees: Ricus van der Hoven, Des van Wyk
TMO: Willie Vos
Sunday, October 8:
Golden Lions v Western Province
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 14.30; 12.30 GMT)
The match between the Golden Lions and Western Province in Johannesburg on Sunday will also be gripping as both sides are currently in the top four, while the Capetonians will have the extra incentive of wanting to remain in second place on the standings for a possible home semifinal.
The hosts won three of their last four encounters, but the visitors registered a convincing 39-3 win against them in Cape Town in August.
Adding to this Western Province have scored an impressive 101 points in their last two matches, meaning they will enter the match with self-belief.
Golden Lions coach Swys de Bruin and his Western Province counterpart John Dobson will announce their teams on Friday.
Western Province head coach Dawie Snyman knows that the Lions will be a lot tougher to beat this time around.
"I think all the teams got better as the season went on," said Snyman.
"The Lions after the Super Rugby Final, it took them two or three weeks to get themselves together as a squad and build momentum.
"It will be a tough match on Sunday."
2017: Western Province 39-3, Cape Town
2016: Golden Lions won 58-32, Johannesburg
2015: Golden Lions won 32-24, Johannesburg (Final)
2015: Golden Lions won 62-32, Johannesburg
2014: Western Province won 19-16, Cape Town (Final)
Prediction: Western Province will take this one by seven points or less.
Golden Lions: TBC
Western Province: TBC
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Referees: Stephan Geldenhuys, Paul Mente
TMO: Pro Legoete