Currie Cup, Round 13 - teams and predictions
SATURDAY PREVIEW: The Sharks and Cheetahs are in the pound seats, as the Currie Cup play-off race heads into the finishing straight.
Having already booked their place in the play-offs, the Sharks will be looking to secure home advantage for the semifinals when they host the Lions in Durban on Saturday.
The Cheetahs, needing just one point to secure their play-off spot, are also hoping to have home-ground advantage in the semifinals.
That leaves the defending-champion Pumas – third on 36, five points behind the second-placed Cheetahs – well aware of the desperate need for a win when they host the team from Bloemfontein in Nelspruit on Saturday.
After dominating the early stages of the tournament, the Pumas and Cheetahs both had a series of disappointing results in recent weeks – the Cheetahs suffered a draw and two losses in the last three weeks, while the Pumas suffered three defeats in the last four rounds.
The defending champions could fall further down the rankings if they lose to the Free Staters.
The Pumas’ charismatic coach Jimmy Stonehouse said winning is the ‘only option’.
“It is a vital game for both teams,” Stonehouse told @rugby365com.
“They are virtually in the play-offs,” he said, adding: “We still have to secure our place, so the first priority is to get a win and take a step closer to the play-offs.
“We hope we can take advantage of the fact that it is a home game,” he said of the Mbombela Stadium.
The wily mentor said the Ruan Pienaar factor will be crucial in Nelspruit – the Springbok utility back playing a pivotal role for the visitors.
“Our set pieces and the maul defence will have to be on point,” Stonehouse said, adding that the Cheetahs score the most tries from line-out mauls.
“Our discipline will also be crucial.”
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie admitted the pressure is on for the points to secure a home-ground advantage in the play-offs – given the mad scramble for semifinal places.
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The two teams are very familiar with each other – with Daniel Maartens and Tapiwa Mafura having played for the Pumas when they won the Currie Cup last year and now featuring for the Cheetahs; while Cameron Dawson and Brandon Thomson moved from Bloemfontein to Nelspruit this year.
“We know what to expect from the Pumas,” Fourie said, adding: “Like like to keep the ball alive from turnovers, [they have] a good kicking game and a very good defensive system.
“It will be a big challenge, but we are up for it and know what we must do to win.”
The coach said they need to cut down on their errors to get back in the winners’ circle.
“It is frustrating that we were not able to play to our full potential, since the Challenge Cup [loss] against Toulon,” he said, adding that some of his selection choices may have contributed to the inconsistency in performances.
“I am confident we will find our rhythm and we are on the right path.”
* In the late game on Saturday, the visiting Lions will be desperate to repeat their Round Four performance against the Sharks – which the men from Johannesburg won 34-22 at Ellis Park.
Lions coach Mziwakhe Nkosi admitted his team has gone into play-off mode, given their precarious position on the table.
Nkosi said while the Sharks are hunting for a home semifinal, the Lions are desperate for a third or fourth spot.
“That are the ingredients that can conjure up a big game,” Nkosi said.
“It’s a play-off game for us and that’s the message we’ve been driving, but like most things, we’ve got to control what we can control.”
Lock Darrien-Lane Landsberg said they can take confidence from the fact that they got one up on the Sharks earlier in the season.
“We also know the threats the Sharks bring, being on a six-game winning streak,” Landsberg told @rugby365com.
“We know what’s at stake and what we have to do,” he said.
Captain Marius Louw admitted that Sharks coach Joey Mongalo has some ‘inside’ knowledge on the Lions – having been involved at Ellis Park for the better part of a decade, before his move to Durban in 2022.
“He did a great job here [at Ellis Park], but things have changed,” Louw said, adding: “He has done some great things in Durban as well.
“We have grown as a team, as the season progressed.”
If the Sharks claim a bonus-point win in Durban, and if the Pumas secure a big win over the Cheetahs, then Joey Mongalo’s side may take an unassailable lead at the top of the log with a round to spare.
“Every single game is important and it doesn’t matter where we are on the table,” Sharks hooker Fezokuhle Mbatha said.
“It’s all about keeping momentum right now and making sure we do everything we need to do heading towards the play-offs.
“We’re taking it one game at a time, making sure that we play our best, every weekend to give us the best possible chance of winning the Currie Cup.”
* All the Saturday teams and predictions follow below …
Pumas v Cheetahs
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit – Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Cheetahs by five points
Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Andrew Kota, 13 Diego Appollis, 12 Wian van Niekerk, 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Giovan Snyman, 8 Kwanda Dimaza, 7 Francois Kleinhans, 6 Andre Fouche, 5 Shane Kirkwood (captain), 4 Deon Slabbert, 3 Simon Raw, 2 Corne Fourie, 1 Cameron Dawson.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Jacobs, 17 Dewald Maritz, 18 Etienne Janeke, 19 Malembe Mpofu, 20 Ruwald van der Merwe, 21 Chriswill September, 22 Gene Willemse, 23 Jaco Labuschagne
Cheetahs: 15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Daniel Kasende, 13 David Brits, 12 Reinhardt Fortuin, 11 Cohen Jasper, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rewan Kruger, 8 Friedle Olivier, 7 Sibabalo Qoma, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete (captain), 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jeandre Rudolph, 20 George Cronje, 21 Daniel Maartens, 22 Evardi Boshoff, 23 Robert Ebersohn.
Referee: Morné Ferreira
Assistant referees: Paul Mente, Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Egon Seconds
Sharks v Lions
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 19.05; 17.05)
@rugby365com: Sharks by nine points
Sharks: 15 Nevaldo Fleurs, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Murray Koster, 12 Alwayno Visagie, 11 Aphelele Fassi, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Tiaan Fourie, 8 Henco Venter, 7 James Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Reniel Hugo (captain), 4 Ockie Barnard, 3 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 2 Dameon Venter, 1 Dian Bleuler.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Marco de Witt, 20 Vincent Tshituka, 21 Bradley Davids, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Marnus Potgieter.
Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Boldwin Hansen, 13 Manuel Rass, 12 Marius Louw (captain), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Ruan Venter, 6 Johannes Pretorius, 5 Darrien-Lane Landsberg, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Morné Brandon, 1 Rhynardt Runsburger.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Morgan Naudé, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Raynard Roets, 20 Emmanuel Tshituka, 21 Morné van den Berg, 22 Rynhardt Jonker, 23 Andries Coetzee.
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni, Phumzile Mbewu
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen