The Sharks will continue to build momentum with a win over Western Province at Newlands on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Western Province vs Sharks
With positions one through four likely to be wrapped up by the time this fixture rolls around, there will be very little riding on this repeat of last year's final. The Sharks come into this one on the back of three consecutive victories, though, and they won't be willing to relinquish the momentum they've built with wins over the Blue Bulls and Golden Lions.
Province are assured of top spot on the log, and coach Allister Coetzee has taken the opportunity to overhaul his entire squad. It's a calculated risk from the WP coach, where eight players in the squad of 23 have yet to make a start for the union. Louis Schreuder and Kurt Coleman will provide some experience from the 9-10 axis, but the Sharks shouldn't have too much trouble in seeing off this Province team.
The selection of the WP team, however, should help to negate any psychological hangover should the two navigate their way through their respective semi-finals to set up a repeat of last year's showpiece.
The Sharks have received a timely boost with the return of Cobus Reinach, who will add some direction and intent to their attack. In the front row, Matt Stevens returns while Monde Hadebe takes over the hooking responsibilities from the injured Kyle Cooper.
REINACH'S STATS THAT MATTER
35 – The number of defenders he beat during Super Rugby (Rank 13)
6 – The number of tries he scored (Rank 15)
79 – The number of kicks from hand he made (Rank 25)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Western Province – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 EW Viljoen, 13 Pat Howard, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Devon Williams, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Rohan Kitshoff, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Jurie van Vuuren, 3 Brok Harris (c), 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Oliver Kebble.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Justin Ackerman, 18 Gavin Annandale, 19 Anton van Zyl, 20 Patrick O’Brien, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Chevandre van Schoor.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu (c), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Monde Hadebe, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 JC Astle, 20 Khaya Majola, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga.
Golden Lions vs Free State Cheetahs
The Golden Lions will be looking to put last week's disappointment behind them when they come up against the Free State Cheetahs at Ellis Park on Saturday. A win will secure a home semi-final. Lose, and they'll hand the Sharks a massive opportunity. The Cheetahs remain in contention with an outside shot of making the semi-finals and will hope to apply some pressure to the Blue Bulls with a win in Johannesburg.
Warren Whiteley returns to lead the Lions, a job he managed superbly during the Super Rugby season. His value cannot be understated in this Lions team, where his work rate and ability in the lineout offer a better balance to their already talented loose trio.
The Cheetahs have also been boosted by returning Springboks. Lood de Jager, Oupa Mohoje and Trevor Nyakane will all start on their return to Currie Cup action.
The two teams last met in the final round of Super Rugby, where the Lions ran riot to claim a resounding 60-25 victory.
WHITELEY'S STATS THAT MATTER
5 – The number of try assists he made during Super Rugby (Rank 20)
8 – The number of lineouts he stole (Rank 5)
168 – The number of tackles he made (Rank 6)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Golden Lions – 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Mark Richards.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 AJ Coertzen, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Lappies Labuschagne, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Torsten van Jaarseveld (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 George Marich, 18 Henco Venter, 19 Neil Claassen, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 Maphutha Dolo.
Blue Bulls vs Griquas
Just three weeks back, following a home loss to the Sharks, the Bulls looked dead and buried in this competition. Three weeks on, and all that stands between them and a semi-final place is an injury-ravaged Griquas team. They're improving with each passing week and, with Handré Pollard back in the mix, they'll be a dangerous opposition in the play-offs.
Pollard played a starring role for the Springboks during the recently concluded Rugby Championship and coach Frans Ludeke will be hoping he can carry his form through to the Currie Cup. He's been selected on the bench, but should get some game time ahead of the semis.
The Bulls have made a number of changes to their starting XV for this one, where they'll field a new front row. Among the backs, William Small-Smith has recovered from injury to take his place in the midfield and Bjorn Basson returns on the left wing.
Griquas have made numerous injury-enforced changes for the trip to Pretoria. Locks Hilton Lobberts and Boela Serfontein, prop Steph Roberts, flank Carel Greeff and captain Wayne Stevens have all been ruled out with injuries. Coach Hawies Fourie has been forced to pick players out of position, with the lineup having a very makeshift look about it.
POLLARD'S STATS THAT MATTER
43 – The number of points he scored during the Rugby Championship (Rank 3)
5 – The number of defenders he beat (Rank 8)
317 – The number of metres he ran (Rank 15)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann (c), 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Morné Mellett.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Wiaan Liebenberg, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 Jesse Kriel.
Griquas – 15 Jacquin Jansen, 14 Danie Dames, 13 PJ Vermeulen, 12 Jonathan Francke, 11 Ederies Arendse, 10 Francois Brummer (c), 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Jonathan Adendorf, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Hugo Kloppers, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Simon Westraadt.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Wesley Cloete, 18 RJ Liebenberg , 19 TBC, 20 Rudi van Rooyen, 21 Dean Grant, 22 Doppies la Grange.
EP Kings vs Pumas
The EP Kings' Currie Cup return arrived with much fanfare. It will depart with a whimper. They're nursing their glass at the last-chance saloon, following nine consecutive losses. The season will mercifully come to an end this weekend, allowing Carlos Spencer and co to head back to the drawing board. For the Pumas, a season that promised so much is set to end just short of a play-off spot.
The size of the Pumas squad has seen their form taper as the season has worn on. JW Jonker has been a constant in their side, however, and has been one of the unsung heroes of their campaign so far. They've made two changes for the match in Port Elizabeth, where flanker Brian Shabangu and eighthman RW Kember have replaced Jaco Bouwer (back injury) and Renaldo Bothma (broken cheek bone) respectively in the starting XV.
The Kings have made a couple of changes from the side that surrendered meekly against Griquas. CJ van der Linde and Charles Marais drop out, with BG Uys and Simon Kerrod replacing them in the front row. Lock Darron Nell returns to captain the side, while Scott van Breda comes in at fullback.
JONKER'S STATS THAT MATTER
680 – The number of minutes he's played in this year's Currie Cup (Rank 17)
6 – The number of clean breaks he's made (Rank 11)
2 – The number of knock ons he's made (Rank 139)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
EP Kings – 15 Scott van Breda, 14 Ronnie Cooke, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Tobie Botes, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Devin Oosthuizen, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Cameron Lindsay, 4 Darron Nell (c), 3 BG Uys, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Simon Kerrod.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Charl du Plessis, 18 Lizo Gqoboka, 19 Steven Cummins, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Jaco Grobler, 22 Ntabeni Dukisa.
Pumas – 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 JW Bell, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rosco Speckman, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 RW Kember, 7 Brian Shabangu, 6 Corné Steenkamp (c), 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Frank Herne, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 DeJay Terblanche, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Uzair Cassiem, 20 Dylon Frylinck, 21 JC Roos, 22 Jerome Pretorius.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images