Preview: Currie Cup, Round Six
The Currie Cup competition has just passed the halfway mark and if the first five rounds are anything to go by, this roller coaster ride is about to get very wild.
Not only was there six away wins in 18 matches, but two draws and only two matches with a winning margin of 20 points or more.
The result is that only eight points separate the table-topping Western Province from the last-placed Griquas.
The weekend's drama starts in Bloemfontein on Friday – where the Free State Cheetahs host the Golden Lions.
On Saturday Griquas are at home to the Sharks in Kimberley and the weekend's action conclude with a big north-south derby when the Blue Bulls take on Western Province at Loftus Versfeld.
Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Six action!
Friday, September 13
Free State Cheetahs v Golden Lions
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 19.10, 17.10 GMT)
The Free State Cheetahs may have kicked a bit more and shored up their defence this season, but they remain a team that entertains.
Now throw in the Golden Lions' willingness to attack from anywhere and you have a recipe for a thrilling try-fest.
The Lions, despite a leaky defence that has ,et in 17 tries in five matches, lead the try-scoring stake by some distance – their 24 touch downs nine better than the next best, the Cheetahs and Sharks.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann said his team had focused on their defence this week.
"Both [attack and defence] are aspects that we paid a lot of attention to and hopefully both will look much better than was the case last weekend against Griquas," Ackermann said.
However, it is their set piece-selections that received most media attention this week – following the selection of the competition's most seasoned front row – Jacobus Roux (31 years old) and tighthead prop, Willie Wepener (32) at hooker and World Cup-winning Springbok loosehead prop CJ van der Linde (33).
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské were forced to make a couple of changes, as injuries continued to depleted his second row resources.
However, the focus will be on discarded Bok prop Trevor Nyakane, hooker Hercu Liebenberg and prop Rossouw de Klerk, as they face up to the Lions' old hands in the front row.
"The Lions have chosen a new front row altogether and we will definitely look to target them there," Drotské said.
"They have CJ van der Linde who is very experienced, but Bees [Jacobus Roux] hasn't played all that much the last couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see how he goes."
The Cheetahs will look to get their campaign back on track, after last week's loss to the Blue Bulls left them with a season record of just two wins from five starts.
"This is the business end of the competition," coach Naka Drotské said.
"Things are quite tight on the points log so the next few games, specially home games, are important," he added.
"We have three of our five games in Bloemfontein so we can't afford to slip up again.
In my opinion we need to win all our home games and at least one away game if we are to progress to the knock-out stages.
"This year's competition is a tightly-contested affair, and just one victory can boost a side by three places on the log."
Drotské reiterated that nothing less than a victory would be good enough for the Free State side in front of their home crowd.
"Mentally, we just never pitched against the Blue Bulls," he said.
The Cheetahs might be on a low after losing to the Blue Bulls, but Ackermann expected a backlash from the hosts.
"It seems we always get teams that have lost their previous games and then they are over-motivated when they run out against us," Ackermann said.
"That will be the same with the Cheetahs. They lost to the Blue Bulls and will be a tough nut to crack."
2013: Cheetahs won 30-29, Johannesburg
2012: Cheetahs won 26-5, Bloemfontein
2012:: Golden Lions won 27-25, Johannesburg
2011: Cheetahs won 53-19, Johannesburg
2011: Golden Lions won 25-20, Bloemfontein
2010: Cheetahs won 59-10, Bloemfontein
2009: Golden Lions won 34-28, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Free State Cheetahs at home will start favourites, but the Lions have shown in recent weeks that they can compete with the best – a draw with Western Province, to go along with wins over the Blue Bulls and Griquas. They are on a hot streak and may just pull off an upset – the Golden Lions by less than 10 points.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo (captain), 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Teboho Mohoje, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Freddy Ngoza, 19 Tertius Daniller, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Golden Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Andries Coetzee, 13 Robert de Bruyn, 12 Dylan Des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Derick Minnie (captain), 6 Warwick Tecklenberg, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Ruan Venter, 3 Jacobus Roux, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 CJ van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Hugo Klopper, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Deon Helberg, 22 Ruhan Nel.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Lusanda Jam, Oregopotse Rametsi
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee
Saturday, September 14
Griquas v Sharks
(GWK Park, Kimberley – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
It is an understatement of note to suggest Kimberley is not happy hunting ground for the Sharks. You have to go back to 2009 to find a Sharks victory in the diamond capital of South Africa.
Add to that the fact that Griquas' only win this season was against the Sharks, in Durban, and it is understandable there is some apprehension among the players from the coastal tam.
The Durban team also come off a loss, having been top of the table till they slipped in Cape Town last week.
Sharks backline coach Sean Everitt, who said a trip to Kimberley is "always challenging", felt his team will require a vast improvement on last week's performance at Newlands.
"We know we weren't up to scratch in our set pieces last weekend against Western Province," he told this website, adding: "Griquas pride themselves on their set piece play.
"We worked hard this week to improve what didn't go right for us against Western Province.
"The players are looking forward to the challenge to try and get a wing out of Kimberley on Saturday."
If there is one area where Griquas are suspect it is on defence, but that is because they put a premium on attack.
"Griquas play an attractive style of rugby and they are very confident with the ball in hand," Everitt said.
"They seem to be enjoying their rugby and play from anywhere on the field.
"I don't think anything will change from that point of view – it has been effective for them and even though they have lost a few games, it hasn't been by big margins."
He said Griquas will probably target the Sharks' set pieces.
"That is also where they did really well against us in the first round," he said of the 30-32 loss in Week One.
"We know they will look to dominate there and then get the ball out to their wings."
2013: Griquas won 32-30, Durban
2012: Sharks won 42-3, Durban
2012: Griquas won 22-15, Kimberley
2011: Sharks won 29-18, Durban
2011: Griquas won 43-22, Kimberley
2010: Sharks won 48-30, Durban
2010: Griquas won 40-34, Kimberley
Prediction: Desperation can make teams do strange things and Griquas are desperate. They may just pull off their second win of the season, but we are going with the Sharks to break a three-year drought in Kimberley and win by about 15 points.
Griquas: 15 PJ Vermeulen, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 JP Nel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Burger Schoeman, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Victor Kruger, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Patrick O'Brien, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 Gouws Prinsloo.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sizo Maseko, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Andrew James, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Jacques Botes (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Danie Mienie.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jason Jaftha, Francois de Bruin
TMO: Willie Roos
Blue Bulls v Western Province
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
What is there to say about a north-south derby that hasn't been already said hundreds of times?
One thing is for sure these games between the Blue Bulls and Western Province are always brutal always entertaining.
Just over a month ago they met at Newlands and that was an epic – decided on the last kick of the match, when the upright cruelly denied the Bulls a late winner.
So, don't expect anything less this time.
Province know victory will cement them at the top of the table, but victory is not a given.
As Bulls coach Pine Pienaar so succinctly put it: "It is a fact that there are no easy games in the Currie Cup."
While he was "very happy" that his team managed to put their campaign back on track with a win over the Free State Cheetahs last week, they know that this coming weekend against Province will be another "titanic battle".
"We will have to be prepared and play much better than we did against the Free State [Cheetahs], as WP is the only unbeaten team in the competition," Pienaar said in an interview with this website.
He felt the key to success will be the confidence that was gained by the players from last week's win.
"Also, the fact that we played better rugby in the second half than what we produced in the last two to three weeks, is crucial," Pienaar said, adding: "We kept losing the plot in the last quarter in previous games and the players did well to retain their composure and focus [against the Cheetahs] and put them under pressure.
"It [the encounter with the Cheetahs] may not be on par [with the pressure] of a big north-south derby, but the important fact is the progress and growth we showed as a team.
"We have to ensure that what we did against the Cheetahs we do even better against Province.
"If we give WP turnovers they will certainly punish us more than the Free State did – that was certainly discussed quite a bit this week."
WP coach Allister Coetzee is confident his team can cement their top spot on the table.
"We have a winning culture and I'm pleased with that," Coetzee said.
"Whether we get the bonus point or not, there's a belief to never give up and lose games.
"I'm pleased with where we are after the first half of the season. We had two draws and three wins but this competition is far from over.
"It's so close, so we have to make sure we put the foot on the accelerator in the second half [of the season]."
2013: Western Province and Blue Bulls drew 24-all
2012: Blue Bulls won 26-13, Pretoria
2012: Western Province won 42-6, Cape Town
2011: Blue Bulls won 28-20, Pretoria
2011: Western Province won 35-7, Cape Town
2010: Blue Bulls won 36-32, Pretoria
2010: Western Province won 15-12, Cape Town
Prediction: It is Loftus Versfeld, so the Blue Bulls have a very good chance of victory. However, there i a good reason why Western Province have not lost this season – they simply fight to the bitter end. It will be close, but Western Province will sneak it – by less than 10 points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Akona Ndungane, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudi Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 David Bullbring, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 William Small-Smith, 22 Clayton Blommetjies.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 De Kock Steenkamp (captain), 4 Mthetheleli Fuzani, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Rohan Kitshoff, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge, Sieg van Staden
TMO: Johan Greeff with Pieter de Bruin in training