PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Nine
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Sharks will hunt their seventh successive Currie Cup victory – a feat they last achieved in 2010 – when they travel to Nelspruit to take on the Pumas on Friday as the competition enters the ninth round.
The Sharks are currently on top of the standings with six wins from seven matches.
In Round Nine's other matches, the Golden Lions travel to Kimberley to take on Griquas on Friday and on Saturday Western Province host the Free State Cheetahs at Newlands.
The Blue Bulls have a bye in Round Nine.
We take a look at all the Round Nine action!
Friday, September 8:
Pumas v Sharks
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00)
The KwaZulu-Natalians, who leaped to the top of the table last weekend, have been in fine form this season, with their only defeat so far in the opening round of the competition against the Free State Cheetahs.
They will, however, face a determined Pumas outfit looking to return to winning ways after being pipped by one point last week. The Sharks won the last three matches between the sides, which included a 29-0 victory in the second round.
But the Pumas emerged victorious in Nelspruit in 2014 and 2015, which will boost their confidence. The Lowvelders have made five changes to their team for this match, which includes the return of fullback Justin van Staden to the starting XV, while prop De-Jay Terblanche will achieve a special milestone as he plays his 170th match for the union.
The Sharks welcome back Springbok flyhalf Curwin Bosch in one of four changes to the starting team, with the others being the inclusion of props Thomas du Toit and Ross Geldenhuys in the front row and Garth April at fullback.
"Being top of the log at this stage is pleasing and it is due reward for the effort and character shown by our players over the last few weeks," said Sharks head coach Robert du Preez.
"There is no time for complacency though and we need to ensure that we carry the momentum from our six wins on the trot into this tough fortnight fixtures.
"The Pumas are a good side and showed just how dangerous they can be last week against the Golden Lions. Playing them in Nelspruit will be a tough challenge, but our players are motivated though and want to retain our winning ways."
Pumas head coach Brent Janse van Rensburg knows that his side will be up against a stern defence at Kings Park.
"This week poses a challenge - it is a very good Sharks team," said Janse van Rensburg. "They are a team that is very good in the set piece. They scored a lot of tries from their set piece as well as from turnover ball. Defensively they are very good. They only conceded 17 tries in the competition thus far.
"They are really abrasive in the collision, they can keep you out so it is very important that we execute our plan well and make sure that we don't give them opportunities to launch their play from set pieces."
2017: Sharks won 29-0, Durban
2016: Sharks won 33-10, Nelspruit
2015: Sharks won 27-26, Durban
2015: Pumas won 33-24, Nelspruit
2014: Pumas won 32-22, Nelspruit
Prediction: It will be a tight encounter, but we think the Sharks will win this one by seven points.
Pumas: 15 Justin van Staden, 14 Jean-Paul Lewis, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Hennie Skorbinski (captain), 11 Ruwellyn Isbell, 10 Kobus Marais, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Cameron Lindsay, 4 Stefan Willemse, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Mark Pretorius, 1 De-Jay Terblanche.
Replacements: 16 Frank Herne, 17 Khwezi Mona, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 Brian Shabangu, 20 Theo Maré, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Devon Williams.
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Tythan Adams, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Lukhanyo Am, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Wian Vosloo, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Marius Louw, 22 Rhyno Smith.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Pieter Maritz, Stephan van Dyk
TMO: Johan Greeff
Griquas v Golden Lions
(Kimberley Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 19.15; 17.15 GMT)
Griquas will look to bounce back from a disappointing result last week when they host the Golden Lions, who are fresh off their first win in five outings, in Kimberley on Saturday.
The hosts have won only one of their last six matches against the Johannesburg side dating back to 2013.
However, they will take comfort from the fact that they went down against the Golden Lions by only five points at Ellis Park earlier in the season.
Golden Lions coach Swys de Bruin's side shows five personnel changes, with prop Jacobie Adriaanse and Albertus Smith starting
Griquas made four changes up-front which sees hooker Abraham le Roux and former Junior Springbok prop Nicolaas Oosthuizen feature in a new-look front row.
The Golden Lions currently occupy last place in the Currie Cup standings with two wins and five losses.
Griquas are just above De Bruin's side in sixth position with an identical win/loss record, but with an extra bonus point.
2017: Golden Lions won 48-43, Johannesburg
2016: Griquas won 30-24, Kimberley
2015: Golden Lions won 29-19, Johannesburg
2014: Golden Lions won 46-8, Kimberley
2013: Golden Lions won 35-28, Johannesburg
Prediction: Golden Lions head coach Swys de Bruin said Griquas are favourites for this clash and we think he is right. Griquas will edge it by five points.
Griquas: 15 Adriaan Coertzen (captain), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Johnathan Francke, 11 Koch Marx, 10 Andre Swarts, 9 Christiaan Meyer, 8 De Wet Kruger, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Pieter Janse van Vuren, 4 Shaun Mcdonald, 3 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 2 Abraham le Roux, 1 Liam Hendricks.
Replacements: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Stephan Kotze, 18 Sintu Manjezi, 19 Kevin Kaba, 20 Renier Botha, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Eric Zana.
Golden Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Ashlon Davids, 9 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen (captain).
Replacements: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Sithembiso Sithole, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Fabian Booysen, 21 Branco du Preez, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi.
Referee: Egon Seconds
Assistant referees: Stephan Geldenhuys, Nico Schmahl
TMO: JJ Wagner
Saturday, September 9:
Western Province v Free State Cheetahs
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 15.00, 13.00 GMT)
In Cape Town, Western Province and the Free State Cheetahs will look to get their campaigns back on track after defeats last week, while the hosts will have the added incentive of earning their first win in four matches against the Bloemfontein side.
The Capetonians, however, won three of their last four matches at Newlands prior to their home defeat last season, which will inspire them.
Western Province prop Alistair Vermaak will earn his 50th cap as he returns to the starting line-up in one of five changes, which also sees Jano Vermaak back from Springbok duty and BlitzBok star Werner Kok included in the starting team.
The Free State Cheetahs, in turn, made only two changes to their starting XV with Ernst Stapelberg named at flyhalf and Marco Mason at fullback.
Despite the Cheetahs fielding an under-strength side for the fixture due to Pro14 commitments, Province captain Chris van Zyl believes it will be a mistake to take them lightly.
"One thing that you must remember is that a lot of those guys believe that they should be playing overseas [for Cheetahs in Pro14] and they are obviously trying to prove themselves, so as much as they might not be the number ones, they will believe that and that is always a dangerous thing.
"You've got these guys that are hungry to impress and they want to make something special. They will see themselves as the underdog and that is always dangerous,' said Van Zyl.
Meanwhile, Free State Cheetahs coach Daan Human is excited to see new flyhalf Stapelberg running things at Newlands on Saturday.
"I'm glad you know his name because he is going to be good on Saturday," said Human in response to a reporter’s question in Bloemfontein.
"Ernst [Stapelberg] has a lot of confidence. He is in the team and he looks like he has been training with the team for the last 10 months. He just stepped in and he is running the show there at the back with the backline. I am very glad that he is in the side.
"I think Ryno Eksteen [who is on the bench] will add some value as well for the team when it opens up because he is an attacking flyhalf and I think he has got a lot of qualities as well."
2017: Free State Cheetahs won 30-17, Bloemfontein
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 32-25, Cape Town
2015: Free State Cheetahs won 28-21, Bloemfontein
2015: Western Province won 9-3, Cape Town
2014: Western Province won 34-29, Bloemfontein
Prediction: Western Province will get back to winning ways with big victory by 20 points or more.
Western Province: 15 Craig Barry, 14 Werner Kok, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Ruhan Nel, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 John Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Michael Kumbirai, 18 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 19 Kobus van Dyk, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Robert du Preez, 22 Dan Kriel.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Marco Mason, 14 Carel Jan Coetzee, 13 Jacobus Jonker, 12 Steph Janse van Rensburg, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Ernst Stapelberg, 9 Juan-Philip Smith, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Chris Dry (captain), 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Dennis Visser, 4 Nicolaas Immelman, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Johan Kotze.
Replacements: 16 Marnus van der Merwe, 17 Andrew Kuhn, 18 Siba Qoma, 19 Daniel Maartens, 20 Fifi Rampeta, 21 Dian Badenhorst, 22 Ryno Eksteen.
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen and Divan Uys
TMO: Shaun Veldsman