Currie Cup, Round Four - teams and predictions
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: The playing field has been levelled, almost, as South Africa’s premier domestic competition moves closer to the home stretch.
The most significant development this week was that the Bulls and Griquas joined the other teams in the ‘match drawn’ column on the standings – after their showdown in Kimberley was cancelled due to players and management from the Pretoria franchise testing positive for COVID-19.
The Lions have had two of their matches cancelled as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak – against the Cheetahs in Round Three of Super Rugby Unlocked and versus the Pumas in Round Six of the Unlocked leg.
The Sharks and Stormers then had their Round Seven Unlocked match cancelled.
That left just Griquas and the Bulls, who now also have to share points.
The result is that the backdoor is open for teams to chase down the Bulls in the race for the top spot.
With their two points added for Round Four (or Round 11, including the Unlocked leg) the Bulls will remain in first place with 35 points.
However, they have just two matches remaining – a tricky fixture against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Boxing Day (December 26) and the Pumas away (in Nelspruit) on January 8.
The Sharks, who travel to Ellis Park to face the Lions this week, sit in a strong position in second place – on 28 points. However, they have a tricky run-in to the play-offs – the Cheetahs away (Bloemfontein) on December 27, Griquas at home (Durban) on January 2 and Western Province away (Cape Town) January 9.
WP, just two points behind the Sharks, have a bye this week and then face Griquas at Newlands on Boxing Day, Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on second New Year’s Day, and the Sharks. That last encounter will most likely be decisive in terms of play-off places and home ground advantage.
The Lions, who have lost a potential six points through COVID-19 cancellations, are in fourth place on 25 points – with matches against the Sharks (at home this week), the Bulls at Loftus next week and the Pumas in Nelspruit (January 2) to come.
The Cheetahs, on 17 points in fifth place, not only have a lot of ground to make up, but they need some results to go their way. They also have to beat the Pumas (in Nelspruit), Sharks (in Bloemfontein), Western Province (in Bloemfontein) and Griquas (in Kimberley).
Strap yourself in. It is going to be a rough ride – which includes back-to-back festive season fixtures for the first time.
We look at all the Round Four matches below the standings!
Friday, December 18
Pumas v Cheetahs
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit – Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
The defending champions, the Cheetahs, are in a desperate fight for survival.
Since the season has switched from Unlocked to Currie Cup, the Bloemfontein franchise has not won a match – with losses to the Bulls (13-40) and the Lions (23-39).
The constant stream of departures and bloated injury list has forced Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie to start experimenting with a view to the future.
One of these ‘experiments’ is at flyhalf, where two-time World Cup-winning Springbok veteran Frans Steyn will wear the Cheetahs No.10 jersey for the first time.
Steyn will be partnered by American World Cup player Ruben de Haas in an all-new halfback combination.
The versatile Steyn may make the move to flyhalf more permanent, as the coach looks for a replacement for yet another departure.
“Frans [Steyn] has played many games in his life at flyhalf [including five times for the Springboks],” Fourie said.
“Tian Schoeman [who played flyhalf in the earlier rounds] is leaving us, most likely after the Sharks game next week.
“We need to find that replacement now.
“That is why Frans Steyn is starting at No.10 and Reinhardt Fortuin, the other flyhalf in our group, is on the bench.
“We will decide after this game who will wear the No.10 jersey going forward.”
Steyn is arguably the most versatile player that has achieved constant success at international level 0 having started at centre (14 times for the Boks), fullback (14), flyhalf (five) and wing (three).
Fourie admitted the Pumas have certainly not been pushovers this season.
“They have produced good performances against Western Province at Newlands last week and against the Bulls,” the coach said.
“They have some very physical forwards.
“It is a team you can’t allow to get ahead in the game.”
He said the Cheetahs’ focus is on being clinical.
“We simply made too many errors against the Lions last week.
“We also focused on our mental attitude and got everybody on the same wavelength.”
Last 10 Currie Cup outings
2011: Cheetahs won 80-16, Bloemfontein
2011: Cheetahs won 29-23, Witbank
2014: Pumas won 28-21, Nelspruit
2014: Pumas win 31-17, Bloemfontein
2015: Pumas and Cheetahs drew 37-all, Nelspruit
2016: Cheetahs won 52-10, Nelspruit
2017: Cheetahs won 45-34, Nelspruit
2017: Cheetahs won 33-32, Bloemfontein
2018: Pumas won 42-14, Bloemfontein
2019: Cheetahs won 43-37, Nelspruit
The teams have met 25 times in Currie Cup matches – with the Cheetahs winning 16 times, the Pumas eight times and there was one draw. Half of the Pumas’ victories have been in Bloemfontein, the last in 2018.
@rugby365com: The Pumas by eight points
Pumas: 15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Etienne Taljaard, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Ali Mgijima, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Devon Williams, 9 Chriswill September, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Phumzile Maqondwana, 6 Daniel Maartins, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuuren (captain), 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Ignatius Prinsloo, 2 Simon Westraadt, 1 Morgan Naude.
Replacements: 16 Abraham le Roux, 17 Dewalt Maritz, 18 Wikus Groenewald, 19 Darrien Landsberg, 20 Ewart Potgieter, 21 Ginter Smuts, 22 Tiaan Botes, 23 Wayne van der Bank.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Duncan Saal, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 William Small-Smith, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Ruben de Haas, 8 Jeandré Rudolph, 7 Aidon Davis, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner (captain), 3 Khutha Mchunu, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Boan Venter.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Cameron Dawson, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 Teboho Mohojé, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Reinhardt Fortuin, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron and Morne Ferreira
TMO: Lesego Legoete
(Continue below the video …)
Saturday, December 19
Lions v Sharks
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
There is no doubt the result of this match will have a massive impact on the final standings and both teams have acknowledged it.
The Sharks, coming off their impressive win over the Bulls last week, can no longer claim the underdog tag.
The Lions have also run into a rich vein of form and will again bank on their 30-plus club to get the job done.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt described it as a “vital game” for the visitors, who are determined to make up the last bit of ground the Bulls have over them on the standings.
“We have three very tough games over the festive-season period,” he said of matches against the Lions, Cheetahs, Griquas and Western Province.
“At the end of the season, this game is going to be crucial for us.”
However, the Sharks have lost half the pack that started and was so successful against the Bulls last week – causing massive disruption in the Durban team’s camp.
Daniel Jooste (hooker) and Ruben van Heerden (lock) have been ruled out this week because of COVID-19 protocols.
Springbok prop Thomas du Toit sustained a rib injury in the Sharks’ 32-29 victory over the Bulls in Durban last weekend.
Lock Hyron Andrews had a family bereavement and has returned home – missing the trip to Ellis Park.
They will be up against a Lions pack that has shown some great form in recent weeks.
“They [the Lions’ forwards] are on fire at the moment,” Everitt said.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen also spoke of his team’s remaining games and this being their last home game – before trips to Loftus Versfeld and Nelspruit.
“The standings are nice and congested,” Can Rooyen said, adding that it is a “big” weekend for the Lions.
The Lions have certainly taken note of the Sharks’ impressive form.
“They play a pressure game, be that on defence, attack or the set pieces,” the coach said, adding: “If it comes of for them, you are in trouble.”
Lions captain Elton Jantjies said the team is in a “good space” at the moment – following their come-from-behind win over Western Province a fortnight ago and last week’s demolition of the Cheetahs.
He admitted the performance of the two flyhalves will be “massive” in terms of territorial pressure and momentum.
“There is a certain way we play and a certain way we exploit space,” Jantjies said.
“[Sharks counterpart] Curwin [Bosch] has a big boot.
“The main thing is how we can apply pressure.
“The team that best deals with the pressure the opposition applies on them will have a good chance of getting the win.”
Last 10 Currie Cup outings
2014: Sharks won 26-23, Durban
2014: Lions won 50-20, Johannesburg
2015: Lions won 31-16, Durban
2015: Lions won 26-18, Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 28-16, Johannesburg
2017: Sharks won 47-31, Johannesburg
2017: Sharks won 24-10, Durban
2018: Sharks won 37-21, Durban
2018: Sharks won 33-24, Durban
2019: Sharks won 30-28, Johannesburg
The two teams are deadlocked in their Currie Cup head-to-head stats in the professional era – 22 wins each since 1996. The Sharks have not only won the last five encounters, but have won their last two visits to Ellis Park. The Sharks have seven wins in Johannesburg since 1996.
@rugby365com: The Lions by five points
Lions: 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 André Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka/Wilhelm van der Sluys, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sithembiso Sithole/Dylan Smith.
Replacements – from: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Morné van den Berg, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Jamba Ulengo, 24 Carlu Sadie, 25 Manuel Rass
Sharks: 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Juan van der Mescht, 3 Michael Kumbirai, 2 Kerron van Vuren, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Fezokuhle Mbatha, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John Hubert-Meyer, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 James Venter, 21 Phendulani Buthelezi, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni, Aimee Barrett-Theron
TMO: Stuart Berry
* Statistics provided by Eddie Grieb