During a Currie Cup weekend that could determine the fate for a number of teams in both the Premier Division and the First Division the most intriguing is possibly a match that seems like a first in South African rugby.
That is the match-up between the unbeaten log-leaders in the First Division competition, the Jaguares XV and the Valke, who are also unbeaten with three wins and two draws
Probably for the first time in South African first class rugby, a rugby union provided a full team for a fellow team. There are 20 players from the Blue Bulls clubs, excluding their two top teams who meet in the Carlton Cup decider on Wednesday, who will make their Currie Cup debut as Valke players against the Jaguares.
It will be interesting to see how a team of amateur players, thrown together for the first time three days before the match, fare against roughly the second best squad of Argentina.
♦ The Jaguares XV is a really powerful outfit. After their five matches to date, they have scored 390 points to 90, an average score of 64-16, and have scored 47 tries (9,4 per match) against 12 (2,2 per match).
They will be odds-on favourites to carry on merrily on their unbeaten way. However, even if they lose the Valke will be part of the play-offs. The Valke, on 20 log points, are three points ahead of third-placed Griffons (17) and eight ahead of Boland (12), who are currently in fourth place..
These two teams play one another, and whatever the result Valke remain in play-off position.
Every match will be vital in the Currie Cup this weekend as two teams play their penultimate pool games, while the other four sides enter the second half of the competition.
Western Province and the Pumas will meet in the only match on Friday, while Saturday’s action will see the Sharks and Free State Cheetahs battle it out in Durban, and the Lions and Blue Bulls line up in the Jukskei derby in Johannesburg.
Log-leaders, Tafel Lager Griquas, have a bye.
♦ Western Province and the Pumas will enter their Currie Cup match at Newlands equally determined to register a victory as both sides currently find themselves on seven log points with only win to their name.
The Capetonians, however, have played three matches, while the Pumas have played four, meaning a defeat for the men from Mpumalanga will in all likelihood deal the killer blow to their semi-final aspirations.
Western Province have a good track record against the Pumas, suffering only one defeat since 2000, but the visitors showed against the Sharks that they can be a force to be reckoned with under pressure.
The home side will be boosted by the return of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi at flank, a move that resulted in JD Schickerling moving to lock, with Salmaan Moerat set to make an impact in the second half. Wilco Louw also returns to the starting line-up.
In the backline Justin Phillips is at scrumhalf, with Sergeal Petersen making his first start of the season on the wing.
The Pumas were forced into a change in their backline following their solid, but surprising win over the Sharks last weekend. Alwayno Visagie replaces the injured Henko Marais at centre, with Ruwellyn Isbell taking the vacant slot left by Visagie.
♦ The Sharks will also enter their match against the Free State Cheetahs with their backs against the wall after one win in three outings, which will set the scene for a thrilling battle.
The Free Staters suffered a narrow two-point defeat last week, which marked their first of the season, and they will be determined to bounce back and remain on the top-end of the standings with a chance of earning a possible home semi-final as the pool stages nears a close.
The Sharks, meanwhile, know that only a victory could possibly save their campaign with two matches remaining after this round.
Interestingly, the Sharks have won the last four matches between the sides, two of which were in Durban, but this will have no significance when they take to the field.
Their coach, Sean Everitt, has made four changes to his team - two each among the forwards and backs.
For the Bloemfontein side, Clayton Blommetjies will be making his return to Currie Cup, replacing the injured Darren Adonis, while Carel-Jan Coetzee will be starting on wing. Louis Fouché replaces the injured Tian Schoeman at flyhalf.
♦ The Gauteng derby has all the ingredients for a mouth-watering encounter, with the Lions going in search of their fourth successive victory, which would catapult them to the top of the standings, while the Blue Bulls have to win their last two matches with bonus points to keep alive their hopes of possibly sneaking in the top four.
The Jozi side have won five of the last six matches between the teams, but the team from Pretoria will have all the motivation they need to create an upset.
Blue Bulls coach, Pote Human, named in a new captain in Ivan van Zyl.
Lions coach, Ivan van Rooyen, made three changes to the starting XV that beat the Free State Cheetahs 24-22 in Bloemfontein last Friday. In the backline, Eddie Fouche replaces Jan-Louis la Grange at inside centre.
Up front, Len Massyn takes over the No 7 jersey from Vincent Tshituka and Reinhard Nothnagel comes in at lock for Wilhelm van der Sluys.
Premier Division teams –
Western Province vs Pumas
15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corné Fourie. Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Nama Xaba, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Edwill van der Merwe.
15 Devon Williams, 14 Morné Joubert, 13 Alwayno Visagie, 12 Ryan Nell (captain), 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Ashlon Davids, 8 Jeandre Rudolph, 7 Willie Engelbrecht, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Stefan Willemse, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Marné 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 Kobus Marais, 22 Ruwellyn Isbell, 23 Morgan Naude.
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Referees: Paul Mente and Aimee Barrett-Theron
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans
Sharks vs Free State Cheetahs
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jeremy Ward (co-captain), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Tera Mtembu (co-captain), 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Mzamo Majola. Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Rhyno Smith
Free State Cheetahs
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Carel-Jan Coetzee, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Louis Fouche, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Sitno Manjesi, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1. Charles Marais. Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 Walt Steenkamp, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Dian Badenhorst / Tapiwa Mafura, 22 Ruan Pienaar.
Venue: King Park, Durban
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Referees: Colby Griffin and Archie Sehlako
TMO: Christie du Preez
Lions vs Blue Bulls
15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Eddie Fouche, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (captain), 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Len Massyn, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sti Sithole. Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Leo Kruger, 18 Chergin Fillies, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 Vincent Tshituka, 21 James Venter, 22 Dillon Smit, 23 Duncan Matthews.
15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl (captain), 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Wian Vosloo, 6 Fred Eksteen, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Dayan van der Westhuizen. Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Madot Mabokela, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Adré Smith, 20 Jean Droste, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Stedman Gans.
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Referees: Jaco Pretorius and Jaco Kotze
TMO: Pro Legoete
Semi-final scramble on in Currie Cup First Division
(The top-of-the-table clash between the Valke and Jaguares XV was discussed at the top of this article.)
♦ The clash between the SWD Eagles and EP Elephants – who are only one log point apart on the standings – is expected to be hard-fought given the fact that while a victory could place them in a good position to possibly finish the pool stage as one of the semi-finalists next week, a defeat could dash their hopes completely.
Eastern Province have been superior on attack and defence this season, although SWD will consider themselves unlucky after earning one win and two draws in their five outings, which will inspire them.
♦ Boland and the Leopards are in a similar situation, with the men from the Winelands holding a narrow one-point lead on the table going into the round. With Boland having scored 29 points more than their opponents in their five matches, they may enter the game with a mental edge, but the Leopards boast a slightly better defence, which they will want to build on in the hope of earning their third win of the season.
Interestingly, the Leopards emerged victorious in all of the matches between the sides dating back to 2013, but they will be wary of the fact that this will have no significance on match-day.
♦ The Griffons will enter their match against the Border Bulldogs as favourites after suffering only one defeat in the competition so far, while the men from East London have yet to win a match. The hosts’ form aside, the fact that a victory may just be enough to allow the Free Staters to book a semi-final berth this weekend, is sure to inspire them even more.
Border, however, will particularly have to tighten up their defence to keep alive hopes of a victory after conceding 220 points in their last five matches.
First Division Fixtures –
SWD Eagles vs EP Elephants
Venue: Outeniqua Park, George
Referee: Egon Seconds
Saturday, 10 August:
Leopards vs Boland Cavaliers
Venue: Olën Park, Potchefstroom
Referee: Stephan Geldenhuys
Valke vs Jaguares XV
Venue: Bosman Stadium, Brakpan
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Griffons vs Border Bulldogs
Venue: North West Stadium, Welkom
Referee: Quinton Immelman