The Free State Cheetahs and Sharks will battle it out for the final play-off position when they go head-to-head in Bloemfontein, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Free State Cheetahs vs Sharks
The Sharks’ bonus-point win over Griquas last weekend, coupled with the Cheetahs’ draw against the Pumas, has resulted in just two log points separating the teams as they head into this weekend’s final pool fixture.
It should make for an enthralling battle, with the fifth-placed Sharks facing the ignominy of missing out on the semi-finals if they fail to come up trumps at the Free State Stadium on Saturday.
However, they will have been buoyed by last weekend’s good victory in Kimberley, while the Cheetahs have suffered a heavy loss and disappointing draw in recent weeks.
The Cheetahs have made five changes to their pack, while youngster Garth April will start his first match at fullback for the Sharks.
With so much on the line, this is set to be a thrilling encounter. Pick a winner at your peril.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 BG Uys.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Teunis Nieuwoudt, 18 Reniel Hugo, 19 Freddy Ngoza, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Ruan van Rensburg, 22 Niel Marais, 23 AJ Coertzen, 24 Willem Serfontein.
Sharks – 15 Garth April , 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 S’bura Sithole, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Dave McDuling, 3 Gerhard Engelbrecht, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Christiaan de Bruin, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Heimar Williams, 22 Waylon Murray.
Pumas vs Vodacom Blue Bulls
The second-placed Bulls look virtually assured of securing a home semi-final, with the team from Pretoria enjoying a four-point buffer over chasing Western Province.
With Deon Stegmann back to boost the Bulls, they really shouldn’t have any trouble securing the requisite points, but they’ll also be wary of an unpredictable Pumas side that snatched a draw against the Cheetahs last weekend and are always dangerous at home.
Pumas – 15 Hoffman Maritz, 14 Bernado Botha, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rosco Speckman, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jason-Colin Fraser, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Rudi Mathee, 4 Giant Mtyanda, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Frank Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanché, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Dylan Petersen, 20 Reynier van Rooyen, 21 Hennie Skorbinski, 22 Wilmaure Louw.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (c), 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Ruan Steenkamp, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 William Small-Smith.
Western Province vs EP Kings
With this match taking place at the same time as the Bulls-Pumas match on Friday, Western Province’s only focus will be on getting the job done against the Kings and taking momentum into the play-offs.
Province are assured of a third-place finish, but a heavy loss to the Golden Lions last weekend would have hurt.
Despite a few injury woes this week, they’ll be looking for a big response, and should the Bulls slip up, they could still sneak into second place.
Western Province – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Juan de Jongh (c), 11 Leolin Zass, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Jurie van Vuuren, 5 Chris Van Zyl, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Oliver Kebble.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Jan De Klerk, 19 Justin Benn, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Jaco Taute.
EP Kings – TBC
Golden Lions vs Griquas
This match is a complete dead rubber, with the unbeaten Lions nine points clear at the summit of the standings, while Griquas dwell at the bottom of the log after just one win this season.
It could get pretty ugly for Griquas, with the Lions having been in dominant form of late, racking up big wins over Province and the Cheetahs recently.
Nevertheless, the Lions will be looking for a clinical performance as they head towards their home play-offs, although it is completely understandable that coach Johan Ackermann has made mass changes to the side for this match.
Golden Lions – 15 Vainon Willis, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Gerdus van der Walt, 11 Mark Richards, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ricky Schroeder, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Fabian Booysen, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Martin Muller, 4 MB Lusaseni, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Mark Pretorius, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Bobby de Wee, 19 Stephan de Witt, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 22 Salom Gavor.
Griquas – TBC
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix