Preview: Currie Cup, Round Four
Preview: Currie Cup, Round FourSHARE
The defending champion Golden Lions have an ideal opportunity to put some space between themselves and the chasing pack as the halfway mark of the Currie Cup competition approaches.
Round Four is perfectly poised for the Lions to steal a march on their rivals in a very congested table. Three teams, the Lions, Sharks and Free State Cheetahs are on nine points (with points difference separating them).
However, with the Lions hosting the winless Griquas in Johannesburg, while the Sharks and Cheetahs go head-to-head in Durban, you can expect at least one team to lose some ground.
Add to that the fact that the fourth-placed Blue Bulls (on eight points) travel to Cape own to face the fifth-placed Western Province (six points) and you can see that a couple of team are going to see some daylight between themselves and the leaders.
Blue Bulls flyhalf Louis Fouche, after his stand-out performance last week, heads the points-scoring standings – with 60 points (six conversions, 15 penalties and a drop-goal). He is followed by the Cheetahs' Riaan Smit (29) and Lions utility back Butch James (25).
Blue Bulls loose forward CJ Stander and Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule lead the try-scoring stakes with three touchdowns apiece.
Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Four action!
Friday, August 31
Golden Lions v Griquas
(Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
Griquas coach Pote Human this week spoke of his team's desire to end their losing streak, but he is well aware that they are facing probably their toughest opponent yet.
"The guys realise we are basically up against a complete Super Rugby selection," Human told this website.
"We realised what they are capable of, they are the defending Currie Cup champions," he said, adding: "They showed last week they never give up and play to the final whistle [when they came back from 0-10 down and won 26-23 with a penalty four minutes into injury time].
"It will be a huge challenge for us.
"The guys will have to show their true character to meet that challenge."
As cliched as that statement sound, it sums up exactly the task that Griquas are faced with.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann made a few interesting selections this week, most notably naming loose forward and former captain Josh Strauss at lock.
It may have been prompted by an injury to regular lock Hendrik Roodt, but it means five of the forwards started live as loose forwards – including Strauss' second row partner Franco van der Merwe.
Even by Currie Cup standards it is a very mobile pack, without conceding the physicality factor, and that suits the Lions' all-action game plan.
Despite his team being undeniable favourites – bookmakers give them a 13-point handicap – Ackermann was cautiously optimistic.
"We all know how many big guns they have knocked over, so we will not underestimate them," he told this website.
"We know they will come hard at us and it will be physical.
"Pote [Human] is a very disciplined coach and we know we face a huge challenge.
"However, this is a home game for us and it is important that we focus on our own game, not what the opposition bring.
"We must execute our game plan properly and not focus on the opposition."
The Lions coach said his team was comfortable with their gameplan and won't change much from the game that saw them edge WP last week.
"Within that [structure] we have the ability to be flexible – if we have to kick, we'll kick.
"We have showed [often] that we do have the ability to play the expansive game."
Ackermann spoke of "some minor tweaks" to the game plan for Friday, but the core of their approach won't change.
"The key is that we improve on our execution of that game plan."
Prediction: Yes, Griquas do have a chance of winning this game. But pleas don't bet you house on it – you will be out on street. The Lions will win, by plenty – 15 points or more.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 JR Esterhuizen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willie Britz, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Joshua Strauss, 3 CJ Van der Linde, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie/Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Alwyn Hollenbach, 22 Deon Helberg.
Griquas: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Walter Venter, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Wesley Wilkins, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Rynhardt Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Ivann Espag, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Matthew Rosslee.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Saturday, September 1
Sharks v Free State Cheetahs
(King's Park, Durban – Kick-off: 17.00; 15..00 GMT)
The Cheetahs have, over the years, been a bit of a bogey team for the Sharks. The ledger have been squared in the last few seasons, but the men from Bloemfontein remain tricky customers.
Their biggest problem is at flyhalf. The Springbok call-up of Johan Goosen has robbed the Cheetahs of one of South Africa's most gifted play-makers.
Add to that the return of the Sharks' talisman, loose forward Keegan Daniel, from international duty and the swing may be rather dramatic.
The visitors' other big problem is their inconsistency. They started the season with a shocker against the Lions, bounced back to beat the Bulls, then had a shocking first half against Griquas and bounced back to win with space to spare in Kimberley.
So, which team will arrive in Durban?
"We'll have to take our A-Game to Durban," Cheetahs backline coach Hawies Fourie told this website.
"The harks may have lost last weekend, with the Bulls having scored a couple of opportunistic tries.
"However, you certainly can't underestimate the Sharks.
"It will be a huge challenge, as I believe they are the team that plays the best rugby this season – we will have to make a huge step up from our game against Griquas last week."
Fourie spoke of the team's need to be a bit more structured off the set pieces.
"From just two line-outs and one scrum did we manage to produce proper plays in the entire game [against Griquas in Kimberley].
"We either conceded turnovers or made handling errors inside the first two phases … especially in that first half when we made a host of handling errors inside our own half."
He felt that in the second half they showed how they should play.
"We retained the ball much longer, through more phases and recycled the ball much quicker. We managed to increase the pace of our game and that is what makes us good – so we have to ensure we get quality set piece ball and retain it long enough to put pressure on the opposition's defensive lines.
"When you raise the tempo, that is when players like Sarel Pretorius gets his game going and Raymond Rhule can start running good lines and join the play – that is when you bring those guys into the game on the front foot."
Prediction: It is a tough game to call and even the bookmakers were call it close to even. However, Kings Park is a good ally for the Sharks and that is worth at least one extra try. The Sharks should sneak a win – about five points.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane , 13 Paul Jordaan , 12 Meyer Bosman , 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jean Deysel (captain), 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Monde Hadebe, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jandré Marais, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 Rosko Specman.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn (captain), 12 Barry Geel, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sis Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Lucas Floors, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Phillip Snyman, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha, Reuben Rossouw
Western Province v Blue Bulls
(Newlands, Cape Town – Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
It is the ultimate derby in South African rugby, the one and only north-south showdown.
The love-hate relationship (read mutual respect) makes this a game worth almost any entry fee.
It is hard, uncompromising, almost always brutal, and seldom a big win – regardless of what has gone before.
Given the nature of the competition – the need for both teams to get a win – and you have a recipe for another classic.
WP coach Allister Coetzee was forced into making numerous changes – most notably the result of Springbok call-ups for Duane Vermeulen and Juan de Jongh, as well as a season-ending hand injury to Siya Kolisi.
For the Blue Bulls, new Springbok JJ Engelbrecht, who travelled with the Boks to Argentina but who was left out of the latest squad, will make his Currie Cup debut against WP at left wing while eighthman and skipper Dewald Potgieter will make his 50th Currie Cup appearance.
The error-prone and erratic Province outfit will be desperate to get back into the play-off places. They currently sit second from bottom with just one win from three starts.
The Bulls, in contrast, are fresh off an impressive win, which ended the Sharks' victorious start to the season.
"We got good momentum out of the Sharks game and dare not to lose that again," Bulls coach Pine Pienaar said.
"There are few challenges as huge as beating WP at Newlands, but one that we want to embrace.
"Last week our preparations were severely disrupted by the flu virus, but this time we have trained well and worked hard.
"I am confident that we will travel down to Cape Town well prepared."
Potgieter tried to play down his 50th Currie Cup appearance for the Bulls.
"Personally it is a nice milestone, but collectively it will only mean something if the team can deliver on Saturday and come up with a good performance," Potgieter said.
"We need to maintain the standards set last week and try to improve on those. That will be the main focus for us."
Prediction: This is, without doubt, the game of the weekend and one that is incredibly difficult to prediction. Bookmakers don't give it by more that two points, although most tend to fancy the home team. The Bulls have the more settled team and could sneak the win – by about five points.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Ederies Arendse, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Don Armand, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 Steven Kitshoff, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Helmut Lehmann, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Damian de Allende, 22 Kurt Coleman.
Blue Bulls: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 JJ Engelbrecht, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Cornell Hess, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Rudi Paige, 21 Lionel Cronje, 22 Jurgen Visser.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan, Marc van Zyl
TMO: Johann Meuwesen