Two derbies that will determine the season’s success or otherwise of the four South African franchises will be played on Saturday, and all four the sides have injury problems that could prove critical to the outcome of the matches and qualification for the quarterfinals
For the Sharks, there is the unavailability of probably their best back Curwin Bosch for Saturday’s crucial derby against the Stormers at Newlands.
But while Bosch is probably the Sharks greatest loss for the must-win match for both sides, there are other Sharks injuries to consider: Springbok hookers Akker van der Merwe and Craig Burden (an uncapped Bok), whose comeback reason to the Sharks is now (again) interrupted by injury; they will be without flanks Philip van der Walt and Springbok Jean-Luc du Preez; and lock Ruan Botha is also not fit for duty.
Stormers without scrumhalf Jantjies, two locks and two flanks
The Stormers will have to do without two Bok flanks – both Springbok captains – Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit, and also Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth and JD Schickerling, who was in the Bok squad without getting a test call-up.
They will also not have the impressive newcomer this season, scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, on their team sheet. But Seabelo Senatla is available after injury and hooker Scarra Ntubeni will most probably also be back in the match squad.
Springbok centre Damian de Allende is also available
Kwagga is Lions main loss
On the Highveld, the Lions will have to do without Stefan Lewies, Kwagga Smith and Warren Whiteley. They’re out for the season, even if it is extended through the play-offs.
The Lions face the Bulls in the last match of the Super Rugby fixtures before the play-offs – and as in the match of the Stormers and the Sharks, where the loser will be out of it altogether while the winner will still have a chance to make the quarterfinals, the clash at Loftus is probably an all-or-nothing affair.
Bulls get good news
The Bulls at least had some good news that their injured Springboks Warrick Gelant (fit again), and Duane Vermeulen (after sitting out two matches in line with the World Cup protocols) as well as former Blitzbok Rosko Specman will return to the Bulls starting team to face the Lions in their final Super Rugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Gelant and Specman picked up injuries during the Bulls tour to Australasia.
However, coach Pote Human had to replace injured lock Jason Jenkins and hooker, Schalk Brits, in a side that shows six changes to the one that started against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Gelant takes over from Divan Rossouw (bench) and Specman's return is at the expense of Dylan Sage, with Johnny Kotze moving from wing to outside centre.
André Warner comes in at scrumhalf in place of Embrose Papier in a rotational move.
In the pack, Vermeulen's return resulted in Marco van Staden moving back to six. Ruan Steenkamp is benched and Jannes Kirsten slots in for Jenkins, with Eli Snyman coming onto the bench in his place.
Johan Grobbelaar will be back-up hooker to Jaco Visagie, who took over from Schalk Brits in Dunedin.
♦ Human, said the return of injured players will freshen up the squad. "We are at a late stage in the competition and anyone coming back into the fray does so with new energy and fresh legs and that is always good. The nice thing about this weekend is that we have our fate in our own hands and do not have to worry about results elsewhere. We can go out and apply our minds to the job at hand."
♦ For captain Handré Pollard, the return to Loftus Versfeld will add something to the team's effort.
"We are going to need every Bulls supporter this weekend and I hope they come out in numbers to support us. We had some mixed performances at home this year, but the last couple of results show that we are getting into a good rhythm. It will be fantastic if we can qualify for the knock-outs for the first time in six years and do so in front of our own fans. Before that though, we will need an exceptional effort on Saturday."
15 Warrick Gelant , 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (captain) , 9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.