It is indeed a strange race for Currie Cup honours if one looks at the four semi-finalists who fight it out for a place in the final on Saturday, with the competitors' first wins spanning 91 years.
Griquas, who have three titles behind their name, last won the Golden trophy first played for in 1992, when they beat the Springbok-laden Northern Transvaal in 1970.Thgeir first winb was in 1899
The Golden Lions, in 1922 after4 30 years of Currie Cup rugby, became only the third winner of the competition in 1922 – the first time the winner wasn’t decided at a centralized venue but in round robin matches on a home and away basis.
The Cheetahs had to wait until 1976 for their first win (by a record 39-9 against Western Province) after the legendary try by Pierre Spies had robbed them in extra time in 1975 - and the Sharks, as Natal, won their first title as recently as 1990 when they beat the Northern Transvaal in a huge upset at Loftus.
The Sharks are of course the defending champions after beating Western Province last year.
After s strangely exciting season despite the unfairness of the system where one match against each opponent never evened the playing field, six of the seven teams could still mathematically make the semi’s in the last round,
Western Province and the Blue Bulls tripped at the last hurdle – and now it is a case of all or nothing for the four teams in the Currie Cup semi-finals on Saturday, with final berths at stake and an invaluable home final for the one of the teams.
SA Rugby Communications report that the Golden Lions and Griquas will meet in the first semi-final at Ellis Park at 14h00 with log-leaders, the Free State Cheetahs, hosting the Sharks in the other match at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein at 17:00.
A victory for the Free State Cheetahs would guarantee them a home final in Bloemfontein next Saturday, 7 September, as they finished the pool stages as the top team on points’ difference, but a defeat for the Free Staters could see either the Golden Lions or Griquas secure a home final.
Golden Lions vs Griquas
The match in Johannesburg will mark the second week in a row the Golden Lions and Griquas meet after they crossed paths in the final round in Kimberley last week and judging by the close result – the Jozi outfit won 27-26 – it is expected to be a cracker of a match.
The last time Griquas played in the Currie Cup final was back in 1970 and they won that match 11-9 against the Blue Bulls (then known as Northern Transvaal), and that is expected to be a huge motivational force for the team going into the clash.
The home side, meanwhile, will be hunting their first final appearance since 2015. To do that, the men from Jozi will have to overturn their home-ground odds.
The Golden Lions have won only one of their three games at Emirates Airline Park this season, which will motivate them to put up a good show in front of their home crowd, but Griquas will have enough motivation of their own as their last Currie Cup victory in Johannesburg in 2012.
Adding to this, the margins between the teams on attack and defence this season have been small, with the Gauteng outfit having scored only two tries more and conceding two points fewer in the pool stages, which points to an epic clash.
The Golden Lions named an identical match-day squad to last week for the clash, while Griquas made three personnel changes to their starting team with Khwezi Mona (prop), Zandré Jordaan (No 8) and Christiaan Meyer (scrumhalf) taking over from Mox Mxoli, Neill Jordaan and Chriswill September, who have all been named among the replacements.
The match will mark special milestones in the careers of Golden Lions captain and scrumhalf Ross Cronje, and Marnus Schoeman (flanker), who both will earn their 70th Currie Cup caps.
15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Duncan Matthews, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (capt), 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sti Sithole. Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Len Massyn, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jan-Louis la Grange, 23 Jamba Ulengo.
15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Michal Haznar, 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Eduan Keyter, 10 George Whitehead (captain), 9 Christiaan Meyer, 8 Zandré 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 Neill Jordaan, 20 Chriswill September, 21 Chris Smit, 22 Bjorn Basson, 23 Ruan Kramer.
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge and Quinton Immelman
TMO: Christie du Preez
Free State Cheetahs vs Sharks
In Bloemfontein, the Free State Cheetahs will go in search of their first final berth since 2016, while defending champions, the Sharks, will have their sights on their third consecutive appearance in the final when the teams meet in their semi-final.
The last time they crossed paths, the Sharks won by a narrow seven points in Durban. Interestingly, the KwaZulu-Natalians last suffered a defeat against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in 2013, and while this is expected to serve as inspiration for the visitors, it will also fuel the Free Staters’ motivation to win.
The hosts have been more effective on attack this season, with 40 tries scored to 26 by the Sharks, but they have been closely matched on defence, with the home side conceding 24 points fewer in their six matches this season.
The Free State Cheetahs made three changes and one positional switch to the side that defeated DHL Western Province last week, with Dries Swanepoel (centre), and Erich de Jager and Ox Nche (both props) earning starts, while William Small-Smith moves from centre to the right wing.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt made only one change to his squad, with experienced flyhalf Curwin Bosch returning from injury. He takes over from Boeta Chamberlain, who drops out of the match-day squad.
Free State Cheetahs
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Tian Meyer (capt), 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjesi, 3 Erich de Jager, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche. Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Louis Fouche, 23 Darren Adonis.
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jeremy Ward (co-captain), 12 André Esterhuizen, 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 Thomas du Toit. Replacements: 16 Dylan Richardson, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Rhyno Smith, 23 JP Pietersen.
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen and Paul Mente
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans
Issued by SA Rugby Communications