The Golden Lions and the Blue Bulls should win their respective semi-finals on Saturday and advance to the Currie Cup decider, writes JON CARDINELLI.
FREE STATE CHEETAHS vs GOLDEN LIONS
The Cheetahs went through the league phase of the 2016 Currie Cup tournament unbeaten. If they down the Lions in the semi-final in Bloemfontein this Saturday, they will enjoy home advantage in a decider against the Blue Bulls or Western Province.
That said, the return of Springboks such as Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx and Faf de Klerk to the Lions squad should be significant. The reigning champs should do enough to win the clash in Bloem and advance to the final.
In 2015, the Lions went through the competition unbeaten and won the trophy. This year, they won five of their eight league matches and finished fourth on the log.
Both teams have played some effective attacking rugby in 2016. Both have topped the try-scoring charts with 49 apiece. The Lions have made the most clean breaks to date, and the Cheetahs the third most.
Both teams have looked to keep the ball in hand rather than use the tactical boot. This is supported by the kicks-in-play stats, which see the Cheetahs ranked sixth and the Lions last in this category.
The Cheetahs conceded the fewest tries over the course of the league phase. However, their defence will be put to a different sort of test when they host a Lions side that features Rohan Janse van Rensburg, as well as De Klerk who will play from the bench.
Expect the Lions scrum to make an impact. Redelinghuys will have a key role to play in this regard. It will be interesting to see how Ox Nche, one of the Cheetahs' best players in 2016, responds to the set-piece challenge.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Ryno Benjamin, 23 Conraad van Vuuren.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Jaques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Ruan Ackermann, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Stokkies Hanekom, 23 Sylvian Muhaza.
BLUE BULLS vs WP
The Bulls won six of their eight matches during the league phase and earned the right to host a semi-final at Loftus. This week, WP coach John Dobson complimented the Bulls for their 'hybrid approach'. This statement is supported by the stats, which show that the men from Pretoria have embraced a more balanced playing style.
The Bulls pack has been in fearsome form. The Bulls won the most lineouts off their own ball during the league phase, and were ranked second in the competition for lineout steals. Expect RG Snyman, Marvin Orie and Jason Jenkins to cause the WP pack problems in this regard.
The Bulls will look to subdue the WP forwards and then implement their accurate kicking game. They should target the shorter players in the WP backline, namely Cheslin Kolbe, Leolin Zas and Werner Kok, with a series of high balls. The chase and aerial challenge from the Bulls' strapping wingers, Travis Ismaiel and Jamba Ulengo, will be difficult for the visitors to negotiate.
That said, the Bulls may also look to expose a WP midfield that has had its problems on defence in 2016. Rob du Preez and Huw Jones will be targeted, as will Bok No 13 Juan de Jongh. The latter returns to the side after featuring in the Boks' 57-15 loss to the All Blacks. De Jongh has battled for form recently, and his confidence may be lacking.
The Bulls also boast a reliable goal-kicker in their ranks. Flyhalf Tian Schoeman scored the most points (116) during the league phase.
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 Bjorn Basson/Nic de Jager.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Chris van Zyl (c), 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 JP Smith, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Stefan Willemse, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Johnny Kotze, 23 Scott van Breda.
Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images