Ruan Pienaar will play his 50th match for the Free State Cheetahs in a new-look lineup for the Currie Cup clash against the Pumas on Friday in Bloemfontein.
The 38-year-old skipper, who signed a new one-year deal last week, will reach the milestone after joining the Cheetahs from the 2019-20 campaign.
A nine-match win streak for the Free Staters was snapped on Saturday by Griquas in Kimberley, and coach Hawies Fourie has made several positional rejigs for the arrival of the fifth-placed Pumas, while injuries have also forced his hand.
Speaking on Thursday about his 50th appearance, Pienaar said: “Didn’t know about it until a little earlier this week. It will be great to have my family there for the occasion. My dad [Gysie] played 169 games for Free State, so it’s quite a proud moment for our family.
“But there’s a more important job [against the Pumas] than my 50th.”
Frans Steyn will miss the clash, as well as the last league match for the Cheetahs against front-runners the Vodacom Bulls, due to a hamstring injury suffered against Griquas and will hopefully be eligible for the semi-finals on 18 June.
He has been replaced in the starting XV by Chris Smit, who lines up in midfield alongside Robert Ebersohn, with David Brits dropping to the bench.
Also, Reinhardt Fortuin and Cohen Jasper start at flyhalf and fullback, respectively, with Siya Masuku and Clayton Blommetjies omitted from the match-day 23.
Among the forwards, No 8 Jeandre Rudolph rotates with Andisa Ntsila, while a fit-again Rynier Bernardo is back in the second row, allowing Aidon Davis to return to the blindside. Louis van der Westhuizen and Schalk van der Merwe also start in the front row.
The Cheetahs trail the Bulls by six points, but the Free Staters have a game in hand and have already booked a place in the last-four stage of the competition.
It was also confirmed on Thursday the Cheetahs will be taking part in the European Challenge Cup next season, but Fourie has emphasised the importance of the immediate task at hand.
“It’s tough to lose Frans but it’s a good time for us to learn to play without him, and Chris Smit will do well. It’s great to also have Robert’s experience,” the Cheetahs boss said.
“We’ve got as much to play for, maybe even more than the Pumas. We’ve got to come back strong and show character,” he added. “Our focus won’t be on the European competition.”
Meanwhile, Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse has shuffled his backline with Jade Stinghling promoted from the bench and will start in the No 11 jersey, so Tapiwa Mafura shifts to the right wing.
Cheetahs – 15 Cohen Jasper, 14 Daniel Kasende, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Chris Smit, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Reinhardt Fortuin, 9 Ruan Pienaar (c), 8 Jeandre Rudolph, 7 Aidon Davis, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Louis van der Westhuizen, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Marnus van der Merwe, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Marne Coetzee, 19 Ockie Barnard, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Mihlali Mosi, 22 Rewan Kruger, 23 David Brits.
Pumas – 15 Devon Williams, 14 Tapiwa Mafura, 13 Sebastian de Klerk, 12 Eddie Fouche, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Chriswill September, 8 Willie Engelbrecht (c), 7 Phumzile Maqondwana, 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Shane Kirkwood, 4 Deon Slabbert, 3 Ignatius Prinsloo, 2 Eduan Swart, 1 Corne Fourie.
Subs: 16 Llewellyn Classen, 17 Dewald Maritz, 18 Simon Raw, 19 Kwanda Dimaza, 20 Andre Fouche, 21 Giovan Snyman, 22 Aliqhayiya Mgijima, 23 Diego Appollis.
Photo: Gallo Images/Volksblad/Mlungisi Louw