Bloemfontein - If the Free State Cheetahs have any hope of playing in the semi-finals of this year's Currie Cup competition, they need to beat log-leaders Western Province on Saturday afternoon.
Province and the Golden Lions have already booked spots in the semi-finals, but for the Cheetahs there is still much at stake with only two pool rounds remaining.
The Sharks, Pumas and Bulls are separated by only seven points on the log standings and the Cheetahs need to beat the in-form Province side convincingly at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.
They then need to repeat the feat next weekend against the second-placed Lions if they are to end the round-robin stage among the top four sides.
"The next two weeks are crucial for us," Cheetahs' coach Rory Duncan said.
"We know that a home semi-final is practically unobtainable, but we are still very much in with a shout for a place in the knockout stages.
"If we want to get there, we will need to beat Western Province and the Lions. [They are] two tough games, but we are confident going into the weekend."
The hosts will look to dominate up front in the scrums, where the front row of Coenie Oosthuizen, Torsten van Jaarsveld and George Marich will come up against Alistair Vermaak, Scarra Ntubeni and Pat Cilliers.
Recognising the challenge, the Cheetahs' trio put in the hard yards on the field under the watchful eye of scrum doctor and former Springbok prop Os du Randt.
"We have scrummed well, but we still aren't 100 percent happy with that facet of our play," Du Randt said.
"We know that Province scrum well, but we believe that we are up for the challenge."
With their spot in the semi-finals a certainty, Province still pose a threat as they aim to secure a home game at Newlands in Cape Town.
Although they have made five injury-enforced changes, most notably the inclusion of Dillyn Leyds in the absence of playmaker Cheslin Kolbe, the visitors will still be a tough nut to crack.
"Five changes isn't something any side wants to make to their starting line-up, but we had no choice," Province coach Allister Coetzee said.
"All the guys coming into the side are hungry to play and will give nothing less than their best."
The visiting coach, however, underlined that they would not underestimate the Cheetahs as they were mindful of the type of game they played.
"They play a very attacking game plan and have improved much since the start of the competition. They will give us a good challenge."
Free State Cheetahs
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 JP Du
Plessis,13 Francois Venter,12 Joubert Engelbrecht,11 Raymond Rhule,10
Willie du Plessis,9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Lappies Labuschagné,7 Neil
Claassen,6 Tienie Burger,5 Francois Uys,4 Werner Lourens,3 George
Marich,2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld (captain),1 Coenie Oosthuizen
Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen,19 Henco Venter,19 Vincent
Jobo,20 Shaun Venter,21 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 AJ Coertzen
Dillyn Leyds, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (captain), 12 Jaco
Taute, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr,
7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Rynhardt
Elstadt, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Alistair Vermaak
16. Neil Rautenbach, 17. Brok Harris, 18. Oli Kebble, 19. Jurie van
Vuuren, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Kurt Coleman, 22. Michael van der Spuy