PREVIEW: Sharks v Blue Bulls
CURRIE CUP SEMIFINAL: The clash in Durban is the KwaZulu-Natalians' first appearance in a Currie Cup knock-out match since 2014 and it's also the first time the Sharks and Blue Bulls meet in the semifinal in five seasons.
Fuelling the hosts' motivation, they won both encounters between the sides in the pool stages, while they have only gone down once against the Pretoria outfit at home in the competition in more than a decade – since 2006.
The visitors, meanwhile, will draw inspiration from the fact that the Sharks' winning margins against them in the competition were by only eight and 13 points respectively, while most of their defeats in Durban have also been by less than 10 points.
Adding to this, they have been fighting for their survival in their competition for several weeks and will be up for the challenge.
The Sharks made three personnel changes to their starting team – flank Jean-Luc du Preez, scrumhalf Louis Schreuder and wing Jacobus van Wyk replace Jacques Vermeulen, Michael Claassens and Odwa Ndungane respectively, all three of whom were included on the replacements bench alongside Armand van der Merwe.
The Blue Bulls named the same starting team that defeated the Pumas to book their place in the semifinal.
However, lock Aston Fortuin faces a late fitness test after picking up an injury last week. Should he be ruled out, Jannes Kirsten will start at lock with Eli Snyman on the bench, but should Fortuin be passed fit, Kirsten will start on the bench.
Sharks scrumhalf Michael Claassens says his team will have the personnel to nullify the Blue Bulls' danger men like Warrick Gelant and Travis Ismaiel on Saturday.
"They [Bulls] are full of confidence, they’re playing well and in their last match [against the Pumas], scored a lot of tries," he explains.
"But defence has been our strong point this season and we have to make sure we're on top of that and work together as a team to neutralise their danger men and not give them too many easy opportunities to score points."
Meanwhile, Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell believes continuity in selection is a big advantage for his team.
"I think cohesion is really important and the only way you can get that is through continuity of players," said Mitchell.
"It gives the players confidence as well, it brings familiarisation. I think everyone becomes a lot more intuitive as a result of the same people playing week after week.
"In saying that they also realise that there are some guys pushing hard from behind now which is starting to create some healthy competition, which is always good in a playing group."
Players to watch:
For Sharks: Wing Sibusiso Nkosi is lethal out wide with his pace and power and centre Lukhanyo Am knows how to crack open defences in the midfield. Curwin Bosch will also have to direct play from the flyhalf channel. In the pack, the Du Preez brothers, Jean-Luc and Daniel, will be a handful when they get going with ball in hand and prop Thomas du Toit is one of the best in the business in the scrums in South Africa.
For Blue Bulls: Fullback Warrick Gelant has shone in the league phase and he is the current leading try-scorer. Captain and centre Burger Odendaal is an abrasive player in open player, while flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff has the ability to kick the Bulls to victory in Durban. Up front, loose forward Marco van Staden has been a revelation, while prop Pierre Schoeman has a great all-round game.
Head to head: Flyhalves Curwin Bosch and Marnitz Boshoff are two very different players and both will have an important job to try and direct play. In the midfield, Lukhanyo Am and Burger Odendaal have enjoyed great seasons and both players have the ability to get their sides over the gain line. There will also be an important battle amongst the two loose forward trios and on paper, it looks like the Sharks have more X-factor.
2017: Sharks won 18-5, Durban
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
Prediction: The Blue Bulls have looked a lot better on the field recently and they got dangerous ball runners across the park to trouble the Sharks. However, the Durban side has been the most consistent team in the competition and they have home ground advantage as well. The Sharks will win by six points.
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Tristan Blewett, 23 Odwa Ndungane.
Blue Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Burger Odendaal (captain), 12 John Jackson, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Nic de Jager, 7 Tim Agaba, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Aston Fortuin/Jannes Kirsten, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacement: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Jannes Kirsten/Eli Snyman, 19 Jano Venter, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Tony Jantjies, 22 Duncan Matthews, 23 John-Roy Jenkinson.
Date: Saturday, October 21
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 14.30 (12.30 GMT)
Expected weather: There might be some showers in the morning, but it will be partly cloudy with a high of 23°C and a low of 18°C with a slight breeze.
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Christie du Preez