Preview: Free State Cheetahs v Golden Lions
Preview: Free State Cheetahs v Golden LionsSHARE
Despite the South African Rugby's unfathomable decision to schedule such a big game in midweek, there is plenty of reason to get excited.
This was always going to a crucial encounter, even before the start of this compacted and downscaled season.
And it has become even more critical, especially for the defending champion Lions, to come away with a win – given the two teams' respective positions in the standings.
The Cheetahs, currently top of the standings, are in pole position for home ground advantage in the play-offs.
In fact, victory may just gift them a spot in the play-offs.
After Thursday's encounter with the Lions, they face Pumas in Nelspruit next Friday and Griquas at home a week later.
The Lions' road to the play-offs are paved with more pitfalls than they would have hope -0 courtesy of two away losses – to Griquas and the Blue Bulls.
Currently, in the fifth position, two points behind the fourth-placed Griquas, the Lions not only face the Cheetahs on Thursday, have encounters with the Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth next week and then host the Sharks in Johannesburg a week later.
The latter game may just be a straight shoot-out between the two teams for a spot in the semifinals.
Cheetahs coach, who declined to go to Sydney in Australia for a Super Rugby pow-wow to focus on the Currie Cup, said the expansive styles of the two teams will make for an entertaining showdown.
However, there will be no lack of intensity, as the defence will still play an important role.
"A lot of people will look forward to the match, between two teams who play an attractive ball-in-hand game," Smith told rugby365.
"However, defence will still be vital," he added.
Prediction: It is a tough call to make, as the Lions will be desperate and the Cheetahs have the momentum. The Lions have been a touch erratic and have yet to win away from home this season. It will hand the Cheetahs a slight edge and they are likely to win – but the margin will be in single digits.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (captain), 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Fred Zeilinga.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Selom Gavor, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje (captain), 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Pieter Scholtz, 18 Martin Muller, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Date: Thursday, September 15
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19.00 (17.00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Jaco Kotze
TMO: JJ Wagner