Cape Town - The scramble for semi-final places in the Currie Cup Premier Division will reach boiling point in the penultimate pool round this weekend, with the results set to be decisive in the teams’ top four aspirations.
All six sides taking to the field are still in the race for semi-final berths, and while victories will keep them in the running, defeats could deal the knock-out blow to the hopes of the teams at the foot of the log.
The Sharks, meanwhile, will enjoy their bye with peace of mind that they have already secured the top spot on the log table and an invaluable home semi-final.
The Free State Cheetahs and Blue Bulls will kick off the weekend’s action in Bloemfontein on Friday (18:15) where the hosts will be determined to bounce back from their defeat last week to remain in the top three on the log and in the race for a possible home semi-final.
But they will go up against a Blue Bulls team hurting from three back-to-back defeats and whose semi-final hopes will in all likelihood be dashed completely if they suffer another defeat.
The Cheetahs have won the last three match-ups between the sides in the competition, two of which were in Bloemfontein, but the visitors went down by one point against them in Pretoria earlier in the season, which they will want to make amends for. This includes last year’s final in the Free State capital.
The Free State Cheetahs made five personnel changes to their team, which sees wingers Cecil Africa and JW Jonker earn starts. The match will be particularly significant for Jonker and fullback Clayton Blommetjies, as they will play their 100th and 50th Currie Cup matches respectively.
The Blue Bulls, in turn, opted for continuity in selection and named an identical starting team to last week, with the only change on the bench being prop Matthys Basson replacing Dayan van der Westhuizen.
In Nelspruit, the clash between the Pumas and Griquas on Saturday (14:00) is expected to be equally thrilling, as a victory for the hosts could see them possibly work their way into the playoff contention or stay within pouncing distance of a top-four spot, while the visitors will desperate to win as a defeat will deal the killer blow to their hopes.
The men from Kimberley won three of their last four fixtures, while the Pumas emerged victorious in the outing between them in Kimberley in the first half of the competition.
Griquas, however, come off a morale-boosting victory against defending champions, the Free State Cheetahs, which they will want to build on, while they will also be fighting for survival, which could result in a nail-biting clash.
The Pumas made only one change to their starting team with hooker Marko Janse van Rensburg replacing Frankie Herne, who has been included among the replacements, while Griquas made four personnel changes, which sees No 8 De Wet Kruger, lock Wandile Putuma, and wingers Enver Brandt and Ederies Arendse earn starts.
The match between the Golden Lions and Western Province in Johannesburg on Sunday (14:30) will also be gripping as both sides are currently in the top four, while the Capetonians will have the extra incentive of wanting to remain in second place on the standings for a possible home semi-final.
The hosts won three of their last four encounters, but the visitors registered a convincing 39-3 win against them in Cape Town in August. Adding to this, Western Province have scored an impressive 101 points in their last two matches, meaning they will enter the match with self-belief.
Golden Lions coach Swys de Bruin and his Western Province counterpart John Dobson will announce their teams on Friday.
Currie Cup Premier Division Round 13 fixtures:
Friday, October 6
Free State Cheetahs v Blue Bulls
Free State Cheetahs
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Ali Mgijima, 12 Lloyd Greeff, 11 Vuyani Maqina, 10 Robbie Petzer, 9 Zee Mkhabela, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Nicolaas Immelman, 6 Chris Dry (captain), 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Dennis Visser, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Johan Kotze
Substitutes: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Gunther Janse van Vuuren, 18 Andrew Kuhn, 19 Jeremy Jordaan, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 JP Smith, 22 Stephan Janse van Rensburg
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Burger Odendaal (captain), 12 JT Jackson, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Nic de Jager, 7 Tim Agaba, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Aston Fortuin, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Jano Venter, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Tony Jantjies, 22 Ulrich Beyers
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse & Darren Colby
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
Saturday, October 7
Pumas v Griquas
15 Justin van Staden, 14 Jerome Pretorius, 13 Gerrit Smit, 12 Hennie Skorbinski (captain), 11 Ruwellyn Isbel, 10 Kobus Marais, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stefan Willemse, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Kwezi Mona
Substitutes: 16 Frankie Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Cameron Lindsay, 19 Hilton Lobberts, 20 Francois Kleinhans, 21 Theo Maree/Reynier van Rooyen, 22 Selom Gavor
15 AJ Coertzen (captain), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Johnathan Francke, 11 Kyle Steyn, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Christiaan Meyer, 8 De Wet Kruger, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 FP Pelser, 4 Wandile Putuma, 3 Stephan Kotze, 2 AJ Le Roux, 1 Liam Hendricks
Substitutes: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Marius Fourie, 18 Jonathan Adendorf, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Shaun McDonald, 21 Renier Botha, 22 Andre Swarts
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Referees: Ricus van der Hoven & Des van Wyk
TMO: Willie Vos
Sunday, October 8
Golden Lions v Western Province
Golden Lions - TBA
Western Province - TBA
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Referees: Stephan Geldenhuys & Paul Mente
TMO: Pro Legoete