PREVIEW: Free State Cheetahs v Golden Lions
CURRIE CUP FINAL: A gripping cat fight is set to play out at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday when the Free State Cheetahs host the Golden Lions in the Currie Cup Final.
This will mark the third time the teams meet in the Final. Interestingly, both previous finals between these sides were in Bloemfontein, in 1994 and 2007.
With both sides finishing the pool stages of the Currie Cup Premier Division with 22 log points after winning four of their six pool games, and only two points separating the teams on the scoreboard in their pool match in Bloemfontein earlier in the season (the Golden Lions won 24-22), the Final is expected to be epic.
The Free State Cheetahs will be hunting for their first title since 2016 – which they won at home by defeating the Blue Bulls 36-16 – while the Golden Lions last lifted the trophy in 2015 after beating Western Province 32-24 in Johannesburg.
The Free Staters have won three and lost two of their last five matches against Golden Lions in Bloemfontein, which will give the visitors confidence going into the clash.
But the hosts will take comfort in the fact that their attack has been better this season with 256 points and 37 tries scored to the visitors’ 197 points and 27 tries. However, on defence both teams have been closely matched, with the Golden Lions conceding only 10 points more.
The match will have extra significance for the Free State Cheetahs, who will be determined to bid a memorable farewell to their head coach, Franco Smith, who will lead the Italian national team after the Rugby World Cup.
That narrow defeat to the Lions in the round-robin phase will be a big motivating factor for the Cheetahs heading into Saturday’s game says Smith.
“What was disappointing from that game was that the penalty count at half-time was six-two in favour of the Lions and in the second half the picture changed a bit,” said Smith.
“We need to stay disciplined and keep on believing and executing. I think we felt the pressure towards the end of that game to just win and not keep to the processes.
“We were nervous and we won two in a row before [that game] and suddenly the score was tight, so I think it is a different situation now and I think both teams will come out to play to win. We have our processes and we have our plan, so we just need to stick to it from the start.”
Smith made two changes to his matchday squad, with Gerhard Olivier (flank) being promoted from the bench to the starting line-up, which sees Abongile Nonkontwana start among the replacements. Joining Nonkontwana on the bench is the experienced loosehead prop Charles Marais, who is back from injury.
Golden Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen made only one change to his starting team with Dylan Smith (prop) replacing Sti Sithole, who has been ruled out due to a torn calf muscle, which means former Junior Springbok Nathan McBeth has been drafted in among the replacements.
Van Rooyen is aware that his team will need to be at their best for the full 80 minutes if they are to get the better of the Cheetahs.
“They have got a good set-piece and they can attack from everywhere,” said the Golden Lions coach. “They want to speed up the game, so for us it is just to stay in the moment and to be ready because you never know what to expect from them.”
Van Rooyen added: “Eighty minutes is a long time. Three or four weeks ago you [reporters] asked us how we are going to start better, so I think it is still a factor. They [Cheetahs] want to play the last 20 or 30 minutes and we are aware of that, so we need an eighty-minute performance.”
— DJ Rossouw (@DjRossouw87) September 5, 2019
Players to watch:
For Free State Cheetahs: Front-row forwards Retshegofaditswe ‘Ox’ Nche and Joseph Dweba have both been sensational in open play this season and they should cause some havoc again this weekend. Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar will be the most experienced player on the park and that could be the vital edge for the Free State Cheetahs.
For Golden Lions: Fullback Tyrone Green is devastating with ball in hand from the back, while centre Wandisile Simelane can do some serious damage in the midfield. In the pack, Marnus Schoeman has been outstanding at the breakdowns and he will be out to disrupt the Cheetahs in open play.
Head to head: The set-pieces will always play a big role in important games and it will be no different on Saturday. There will be an intriguing battle between the two front rows at scrum time. There will also be a spotlight the two scrumhalves, Ross Cronje and Ruan Pienaar, who will both be called on for some important decisions in open play.
2019: Golden Lions won 24-22, Bloemfontein
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)
Prediction: Free State Cheetahs
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Tian Meyer (captain), 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Erich de Jager, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Abongile Nonkontwana, 22 Louis Fouche, 22 Darren Adonis.
Golden Lions: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Duncan Matthews, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (captain), 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Len Massyn, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jan-Louis la Grange, 23 Jamba Ulengo.
Date: Saturday, September 7
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be sunny with a high of 23°C and a low of 6°C. There will be a slight breeze.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Egon Seconds
TMO: Shaun Veldsman