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Currie Cup Round Four - teams and predictions

PREVIEW: The Cheetahs’ status as the Currie Cup pace-setters will be put to the test when they host the defending champion Pumas in Bloemfontein on Friday.

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Not only are they No.1 (Cheetahs, 15 points) and No.2 (Pumas, 14), but they are also the only two unbeaten teams.

The top of the table clash is preceded by an encounter between two winless sides – the newly-promoted Griffons hosting the Bulls in Welkom.

Saturday’s two games are between the Lions (one win) and Sharks (two wins) in Johannesburg, while Western Province (two wins) host Griquas ((one win) in Cape Town.

The games in Johannesburg and Cape Town are ‘curtain raisers’ for two big European knock-out games.

The Lions host French giants Racing 92 in a Challenge Cup Round of 16 encounter in the main feature of the Ellis Park double-header, while the Stormers are at home to English Premiership[ outfit Harlequins in the Champions Cup Round of 16 outing in the Cape Town double feature.

However, it is in Bloemfontein where the Currie Cup focus is.

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The Cheetahs had to split their team for the first time, with their main squad in France for a Challenge Cup knockout match against French outfit Toulon.

Hawies Fourie is with the team in France and Henley du Plessis has taken charge of the Currie Cup side in Bloemfontein.

George Cronje returns from injury and will captain the side.

George was the captain of the South African Under-20 team in 2021.

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Jean Droste and George Lourens also return from injury.

An interesting inclusion on the bench is Paul Schoeman, who played for the Cheetahs from 2016-2018 (57 caps), and just returned from a stint in Japan.

A number of players will make their Currie Cup and Cheetah debuts on Friday.

Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse regards the trip to Bloemfontein as a potential banana skin for the defending champions – despite the depleted look of the hosts.

“It is an opportunity to test their dept,” the wily Nelspruit coach told @rugby365com.

“The players running out [for the Cheetahs] in Bloemfontein would like to show they deserve more regular starts in the Currie Cup.”

He said he would love to also have the opportunity to play in an international competition, but for now, their focus is on defending their Currie Cup title.

“We can’t afford to focus on which players other teams select,” the Pumas coach said, adding: “We look at improving ourselves in every outing and take some valuable points home.”

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* In the other Friday game Bulls coach Edgar Marutlulle welcomes back two Springboks – flyhalf Johan Goosen and loose forward Nizaam Carr.

That experience will come in handy against a Griffons team that showed promise so far this season, but continued to run out of puff in the second half – a clear sign of a need for better conditioning at this level.

Add in other Boks like Lionel Mapoe and Lizo Gqoboka (who captains the side) and the Bulls should have enough firepower to break their losing streak.

Bulls Currie Cup coach Edgar Marutlulle said he was ‘excited’ about having Goosen in his team, given the Bok’s obvious talent.

However, with the 30-year-old coming back from shoulder surgery, the main goal is to give him ‘game time’ and get him back up to speed.

“We all know he is a world-class player and has played some amazing rugby,” Marutlulle told @rugby365com.

He admitted the ‘wight of expectation’ could be a real challenge for the talented back.

“We give him a new voice, a place to relax and just be himself,” the Bulls coach said.

“We have got to help him get match fit.

“Any coach, if you offer him a Johan Goosen, he will take him in the blink of an eye.”

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* The Lions, who broke their Currie Cup duck with a win over the Griffons last week, would like to keep the momentum they gained in the second half.

However, they are up against a Sharks team with some real quality and also coming off an impressive win.

The Lions have managed to win only two of their last five Currie Cup meetings between the two provinces – winning 38-32 when they previously met in Durban (June 4 last year).

Skipper Jaco Visagie said he studied the Sharks’ upset of Western Province (20-7) in Durban last week.

“It was a frustrating game to watch,” he said of a stop-start affair at Kings Park.

“The key for us would be to pick up the tempo and retain the ball,” he said about their most-likely tactics against the visitors at Ellis Park.

He added that the Currie Cup teams should strive to produce the same quality and intensity of game that is produced by franchises in the United Rugby Championship.

“At the moment [the] Currie Cup is a bit slower,” Visagie said, adding: “If we can get the same mindset as we have at the URC we can put them under pressure this weekend.”

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* The weekend’s Currie Cup action is concluded in Cape Town – WP hoping for better fortunes against tricky customers in Griquas.

Dating back to July 2021, the Capetonians have lost four consecutive Currie Cup matches against the Kimberley outfit.

Province last beat Griquas (34-17) on 26 December 2020 at their previous home ground, Newlands.

Fielding a largely unchanged team from that which lost to the Pumas last week, the Kimberley-based outfit will be without talisman Rosko Specman – who injured his quad.

Forwards coach Barend Pieterse said they expect a ‘typical’ Western Cape game – a team that prides itself on a quality set piece and playing off turnovers.

“We will have to look after the ball,” he said of the need to deny them opportunities against an unstructured defence.

“We have to be clinical on defence and attack.”

All the Round Four teams and predictions are below

Currie Cup Round Four - teams and predictions

Friday, March 31

Griffons v Bulls
(NorthWest Stadium, Welkom – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bulls by seven points

Teams

Griffons: 15 Domenic Smit, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Carel Jan Coetzee, 12 Marquit September, 11 Randy Fielies, 10 Duan Pretorius (captain), 9 Jaywinn Juries, 8 Sokhuphumla Xakalashe, 7 Jean Pretorius, 6 Mitchell Carstens, 5 Michael Benadie, 4 Jaco Willemse, 3 Doctor Booysen, 2 Dandre Delport, 1 Stephan de Jager.
Replacements: 16 Hendrik van Schoor, 17 Xolani Jacobs, 18 Buhle Nojekwa, 19 Wikus Nieuwenhuis, 20 Curtly Thomas, 21 Richman Gora, 22 Robbie Petzer, 23 Duren Hoffman.

Bulls: 15 Franco Knoetze, 14 Quewin Nortje, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Lionel Mapoe, 11 Kabelo Mokoena, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Keagan Johannes, 8 Muller Uys, 7 Nizaam Carr, 6 Phumzile Maqondwana, 5 Reinhardt Ludwig, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Robert Hunt, 2 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 1 Lizo Gqoboka (captain).
Replacement: 16 Simphiwe Matanzima, 17 Joe van Zyl, 18 Sebastian Lombard, 19 Jacques Alberts, 20 Mihhali Mosi, 21 Bernard van der Linde, 22 Chris Smit, 23 Adriaan Joubert.

Referee: Griffin Colby
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Ben Crouse

Cheetahs v Pumas
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Pumas by 12 points

Teams

Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Etienne Taljaard, 13 Diego Appollis, 12 Wian van Niekerk, 11 Lundi Msenge, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Chriswill September, 8 Kwanda Dimaza, 7 Francois Kleinhans, 6 Andre Fouche, 5 Shane Kirkwood (captain), 4 Deon Slabbert, 3 Ignatius Prinsloo, 2 Eduan Swart, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Llewellyn Classen, 17 Etienne Janeke, 18 Juice Gumede, 19 Malembe Mpofu, 20 Ruwald van der Merwe, 21 Giovan Snyman, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Stefan Coetzee.

Cheetahs: 15 Andell Loubser, 14 Siba Xamlashe, 13 Marcell Muller, 12 Evardi Boshoff, 11 Xolisa Guma, 10 George Lourens, 9 Branden de Kock, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 George Cronje (captain), 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Jean Droste, 4 Ruan Janse van Rensburg, 3 Laurence Victor, 2 Janus Venter, 1 Wayrin Losper.
Replacements: 16 Jacques Goosen, 17 Kevin Stevens, 18 Boeta Loubser, 19 Johnre Stopforth, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Dian Koen, 22 Zinedine Booysen, 23 Thoubaan Gabriels.

Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Egon Seconds

Saturday, April 1

Lions v Sharks
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 15.30; 13.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Lions by five points

Teams

Lions: 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Boldwin Hansen, 13 Stean Pienaar, 12 Tyler Bocks, 11 Ilunga Mukendi, 10 Vaughen Isaacs, 9 Nico Steyn, 8 Jarod Cairns, 7 Peter-John Steenkamp, 6 Sibusiso Sangweni, 5 Darrien-Lane Landsberg, 4 Raynard Roets, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Jaco Visagie (captain), 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Morne Brandon, 18 Kabous Bezuidenhout, 19 Ruan Delport, 20 Ruhan Straeuli, 21 Renzo du Plessis, 22 Jurich Claasens, 23 Matt More.

Sharks: 15 Yaw Penze, 14 Phikolomzi Sobahle, 13 Murray Koster (captain), 12 Francois Venter, 11 Alwayno Visagie, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Bradley Davids, 8 Thembelani Bholi, 7 Jeandre Labuschagne, 6 James Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Corne Rahl, 3 Khutha Mchunu, 2 Fez Mbatha, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Masikane Mazwi, 17 Dian Bleuler, 18 Devon Martinus, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Damon Royle, 21 Tiaan Fourie, 22 Lionel Cronje, 23 Luyanda Mkhize.

Referee: Paul Mente
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Egon Seconds

Western Province v Griquas
(Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 19.15; 17.15 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Western Province by seven points

Teams

Western Province: TBC

Griquas: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Reagan Oranje, 13 Jay-Cee Nel, 12 Eddie Fouche, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Lubabalo Dobela, 9 Johan Mulder, 8 Carl Els, 7 Hanru Sirgel (captain), 6 Stephan Smit, 5 Albert Liebenberg, 4 Derik Pretorius, 3 Cebo Dlamini, 2 Gustav du Rand, 1 Eddie Davids.
Replacements: 16 Janco Uys, 17 Kudzwai Dube, 18 Junior Banda, 19 Michael Amiras, 20 Neil Otto, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Alex-Zander du Plessis, 23 Sango Xamlashe.

Referee: Christopher Allison
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Quinton Immelman

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