Gaiining 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 evening, while the Pumas host the Sharks in Nelspruit and the Blue Bulls play Griquas in Pretoria on Saturday. Western Province have a bye.
The battle for places in the top four on the standings in the Currie Cup First Division will intensify this weekend as the teams face the realisation that there are only three pool rounds remaining, including this weekend, to earn semi-final spots.
The Boland Cavaliers and Valke will kick off the action at Esselen Park in Worcester on a jam-packed Saturday which features matches between the Jaguares XV and SWD Eagles in Potchefstroom, the Border Bulldogs and Eastern Province in Mthatha, and the Griffons and Leopards in Welkom.
Winning momentum becomes vital in Currie Cup
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.
The Free State Cheetahs team shows three personnel changes, with Tapiwa Mafura (winger), Marnus van der Merwe (flanker) and Ox Nche (prop) earning starts, while a notable inclusion on the bench is former Springbok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar.
In Nelspruit, the Pumas and Sharks will enter their encounter under pressure to win, with an eye on the semi-final 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 a possible place in the top four, while the KwaZulu-Natalians have won one of their two games and will 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 captainain Phendulani Buthelezi on the side of the scrum, which saw Jacques Vermeulen being included among the replacements.
♦ 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, making it five Blitzboks with Dylan Sage, Tim Agaba and Rosko Specman who have all won bronze medals as part of tie SA sevens team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Cornal Hendriks who played in the gold medal winning side at the 2014 Commonwealth games.
The Griquas team, in turn, shows a few changes, with Victor Sekekete (lock), André Swarts (centre) and Anthony Volmink (fullback) earning starts.
Currie Cup Premier Division fixtures –
Free State Cheetahs
15 Darron Adonis, 14 Tapiwa Mafura, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz 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 Ox Nche. Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Abongile Nonkontwana, 21 Gerhard Olivier, 22 Ruan Pienaar, 23 Louis Fouche.
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 Sti 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.
Venue: Free State Stadium
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen and Griffin Colby
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
15 Devon Williams, 14 Morne Joubert, 13 Ryan Nell (captain), 12 Henko Marais, 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Christ 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 Kobus Marais, 22 Alwayno Visagie, 23 Morgan Naude.
15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jeremy Ward (co-captain), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Tera Mtembu (co-captain), 7 Phendulani 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.
Venue: Mbombela Stadium
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron and Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Christie du Preez
Blue Bulls vs Griquas
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 André Warner, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Stedman Gans.
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.
Venue: Loftus Versfeld
Referee: Divan Uys
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs and Griffin Colby
TMO: Pro Legoete
Tense top four battle in First Division
The clash in Worcester between the Valke 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 semi-final.
The Valke 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 a piece, but the Valke’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 Valke 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 semi-final stages.
The SWD Eagles’ defence 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 semi-final 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.
Currie Cup First Division fixtures
Boland Cavaliers vs Valke
Venue: Esselen Park, Worcester
Referee: Ben Crouse
Jaguares XV vs SWD Eagles
Venue: Fanie du Toit, Potchefstroom
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Border Bulldogs vs Eastern Province
Venue: Mthatha Stadium, Mthatha
Referee: Archie Sehlako
Griffons vs Leopards
Venue: NFS Stadium, Welkom
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Issued by SA Rugby Communications