PREVIEW: Currie Cup, Round Four
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Gaining valuable momentum will be the focus for all the teams in action in the Currie Cup this weekend, as some sides reach the halfway stage of their campaigns and others edge closer to the final stages of their pool games.
The Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions – who are both unbeaten – will kick off the action in Bloemfontein on Friday, while the Pumas host the Sharks in Nelspruit and the Blue Bulls take on Griquas in Pretoria on Saturday.
Western Province have a bye.
We take a closer look at Round Four’s fixtures.
Friday, August 2:
Free State Cheetahs v Golden Lions
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 19.15; 17.15 GMT)
The Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions – who are the only two unbeaten teams in the Currie Cup Premier Division – will be hunting their third victories in a row when they meet in the city of roses.
Both sides have been impressive on attack, scoring 30 points or more in both their matches this season, while the Free Staters boast the best defence in the competition, which is expected to set the scene for an exciting encounter.
The Johannesburg outfit won the last two matches between the sides, but they will be wary of the fact that the last time they toppled the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein was way back in 2015.
The Golden Lions opted for continuity in selection with the only change to the starting team that defeated Western Province being the inclusion of lock Wilhelm van der Sluys in place of Marvin Orie, who has joined the Springbok squad.
Golden Lions head coach Ivan van Rooyen is well aware of the challenge that awaits his team in Bloemfontein.
“They [Cheetahs] got a very good set-piece and they got a good attack from that as well,” said the coach.
“They threaten you with numbers and they threaten you with width, so they are dangerous on attack and dangerous in defence. They are a very good team.”
The Free State Cheetahs team shows three personnel changes, with Tapiwa Mafura (wing) and Marnus van der Merwe (flank) earning starts, while a notable inclusion on the bench is former Springbok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar.
Pienaar only started training with the team this week, but he is itching to do his part on the field.
“It’s very exciting – it’s a special group of players that Franco [Smith] is leading pretty well,” said Pienaar.
“I have only been here a few days and I can see that there is a special vibe between the players. I am excited to be a part of that and I am very excited to be involved tomorrow [Friday] night.”
2018: Golden Lions won 47-14, Johannesburg
2017: Golden Lions won 44-17, Johannesburg
2017: Free State Cheetahs won 30-24, Bloemfontein
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 55-17, Bloemfontein (semifinal)
2016: Free State Cheetahs won 37-29, Bloemfontein
Prediction: Free State Cheetahs
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Darron Adonis, 14 Tapiwa Mafura, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Sibahle Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer, (captain), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Marnus van der Merwe, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sitno Manjesi, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 20 Abongile Nonkontwana, 21 Gerhard Olivier, 22 Ruan Pienaar, 23 Louis Fouche.
Golden Lions: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Jan-Louis la Grange, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (captain); 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Leo Kruger, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 James Venter, 21 Len Massyn, 22 Dillon Smit, 23 Manuel Rass.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Griffin Colby
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
Saturday, August 3:
Pumas v Sharks
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
In Nelspruit, the Pumas and Sharks will enter their encounter under pressure to win, with an eye on the semifinal stages.
The hosts have lost all three of their matches so far and need to win all their remaining games with bonus points to salvage any hope of a possible place in the top four, while the KwaZulu-Natalians have won one of their two games and will be determined to build momentum after coming off a bye.
Should the Pumas succeed in earning their first win of the season, it would mark their first victory against the Sharks since 2015. But they will have to step up their defence significantly to achieve this after conceding 100 points in the last three matches.
The Pumas named the same starting team that faced the Blue Bulls last week, while the only change to the Sharks starting XV was the inclusion of Junior Springbok captain Phendulani Buthelezi on the side of the scrum, which saw Jacques Vermeulen being included among the replacements.
“The team is in a super-excited mood and keen to get the campaign back on track after the break and following a good finish against Western Province two weeks ago,” explained Sharks coach Sean Everitt in the build-up to the match.
“It’s important that we keep the momentum going into the next round against the Pumas who we’re expecting to prove to be difficult opponents so we’re going to have to be on top of our game on Saturday to be able to get the result.”
2018: Sharks won 28-12, Durban
2017: Sharks won 27-25, Nelspruit
2017: Sharks won 29-0, Durban
2016: Sharks won 33-10, Nelspruit
2015: Sharks won 27-26, Durban
Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Morné Joubert, 13 Ryan Nell (captain), 12 Henko Marais, 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Christopher Smith, 9 Ashlon Davids, 8 Jeandre Rudolph, 7 Willie Engelbrecht, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Stefan Willemse, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Marne Coetzee, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Andrew Beerwinkel.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Hilton Lobberts, 19 Phumzile Maqondwana, 20 Ginter Smuts, 21 Jacobus Marais, 22 Alwayno Visagie, 23 Morgan Naude.
Sharks: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Phepsi Buthelezi, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Aphelele Fassi.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron, Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Christie du Preez
Blue Bulls v Griquas
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
The battle between the Blue Bulls and Griquas is also expected to be a tight tussle as they both take to the field in their third-last pool matches.
The Kimberley outfit will be determined to return to their winning ways after suffering their first defeat last week, while their Pretoria counterparts – who are second last on the log – will be keen to build on their first win last week to power their way up the standings.
The Blue Bulls have dominated the encounters between the sides for the last six years, but this will have no significance this weekend as a slip-up for either team could come at a big price in the next few weeks as the pool stages nears its conclusion.
In the only change to the Blue Bulls starting team, former Junior Springbok flyhalf Manie Libbok returns to pivot, while Marnitz Boshoff has been named among the replacements. Springbok Sevens player Stedman Gans has also been drafted in among the replacements.
Blue Bulls head coach Pote Human said it was easy to stick with the players who beat the Pumas in Nelspruit.
“That was a hard-fought win for us over a much-respected opponent at a venue where we battled in the past, so it was the right thing to reward the team who claimed that victory. The swop between Marnitz and Manie is purely tactical as we approach this match against Griquas slightly different,” Human said.
“Also, it is nice to have Stedman back in the mix and I am keen to see him showing us what he is capable of. Jade did nothing wrong, but with Stedman in, we have a bit more flexibility in the backline,” Human explained.
Human held the reins in Kimberley before and warned his players to prepare for an onslaught.
“They will come at us hard, no doubt. They will be smarting after their defeat last weekend and probably have the most momentum of all teams in the competition.”
Ruan Steenkamp, who will lead the team into battle, said they are looking forward to playing at home again.
“Our last outing at home did not go well, unfortunately, so we are keen to redeem ourselves. We must perform and I believe we can do so if we stick to our plan and approach and take the game to them. If we play at our pace and on our terms, we will be hard to beat.”
The Griquas team shows a few changes, with Victor Sekekete (lock), Andre Swarts (centre) and Anthony Volmink (fullback) earning starts.
2018: Blue Bulls won 45-40, Kimberley
2017: Blue Bulls won 44-42, Pretoria
2017: Blue Bulls won 51-45, Kimberley
2016: Blue Bulls won 57-20, Pretoria
2015: Blue Bulls won 46-32, Kimberley
Prediction: Blue Bulls
Blue Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Dylan Sage, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Marco van Staden, 6 Ruan Steenkamp (captain), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Adri Smit, 20 Wihan Vosloo, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Stedman Gans.
Griquas: 15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Michal Haznar, 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Eduan Keyter, 10 George Whitehead (captain), 9 Zak Burger, 8 Neill Jordaan, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Ian Groenewald, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 AJ Le Roux, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Mox Mxoli, 18 Johan Momsen, 19 Zandre Jordaan, 20 Chriswill September, 21 Chris Smit, 22 Bjorn Basson, 23 Ruan Kramer.
Referee: Divan Uys
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Griffin Colby
TMO: Marius Jonker
The clash in Worcester between the Falcons and Boland Cavaliers – who will enter the round in second and third place on the log respectively – is expected to be tense as both teams target a victory to remain in the race for a possible home semifinal.
The Falcons will enter the match as favourites with two victories and two draws in their four matches up to now, which has left them unbeaten, while the hosts have won two and lost two. They have, however, been closely matched on attack with 16 tries apiece, but the Falcon’s defence has been superior.
Boland will draw inspiration from the fact that they won their last two home games against the Gauteng outfit, but the Falcons have won two of their last three games between the sides, which will boost their confidence.
The SWD Eagles will have their work cut out at the Fanie du Toit Sports Grounds in Potchefstroom as they look to topple log leaders, the Jaguares XV, whose superb form so far has seen them cruise to four bonus-point victories in a row.
The George side, however, will take comfort from the fact they have suffered only one defeat this season, but they will be wary of the fact that they need to do enough to push through for a win to avoid slipping further behind the pace setters with an eye on the semifinal stages.
The SWD Eagles’ defence, in particular, has to be rock solid as the Argentineans have scored more than double the number of their tries in the opening four rounds.
The Griffons will be hunting their fourth victory in a row against the Leopards when sides cross paths in Welkom in what is expected to be a gripping clash.
The hosts are currently in fourth place on the standings and they will be determined to remain in the top four, while the Leopards trail by only two points. A defeat for the men from Potchefstroom, however, could place them under immense pressure in the last two pool games to sneak into a semifinal position, which will fuel their determination going into the clash.
The bottom-of-the-log clash in Mthatha between the Border Bulldogs and EP Elephants could also be hard-fought as both teams attempt to make up for their slow starts to the season.
The sides have been closely matched on attack with the men from the Port Elizabeth scoring only two tries more than their East London neighbours, but the EP Kings have been more effective on defence. Border, however, have won the last two outings between the sides, which could charge them up.
First Division Round Five Fixtures:
Saturday, August 3:
Boland Cavaliers v Falcons
Venue: Esselen Park, Worcester
Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT
Referee: Ben Crouse
Jaguares XV v SWD Eagles
Venue: Fanie du Toit, Potchefstroom
Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Border Bulldogs v Eastern Province
Venue: Mthatha Stadium, Mthatha
Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT
Referee: Archie Sehlako
Griffons v Leopards
Venue: HT Pelatona Projects Stadium, Welkom
Kick-off: 15.15; 13.15 GMT
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen