The Free State Cheetahs will battle to contain a rampant Blue Bulls side in Bloemfontein on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
FREE STATE CHEETAHS vs BLUE BULLS
Free State beat Boland 44-16 last week to take the lead at the top of the Currie Cup log. However, the Cheetahs' performance needs to be viewed in context. That game in Wellington marked Boland's first appearance in the Currie Cup Premier Division since 2009.
More should be read into the Blue Bulls' 45-26 hammering of Western Province. The Bulls put six tries past a team that is renowned for its defence. They produced a strong defensive performance themselves. The final scoreline suggests that the Bulls lost their shape in the latter stages. The result as well as the bonus point was already secure by that point, though.
Expect the Bulls to adopt a similar approach when they visit Bloemfontein this weekend. The Bulls forwards should trouble their Cheetahs counterparts at the breakdown. Flyhalf Tian Schoeman is in fine goal-kicking form, and will be expected to convert opportunities into points.
The Cheetahs may battle to bring their young yet undoubtedly talented backline into the game. The hosts will also be without their attacking talisman, Sergeal Petersen. The winger sustained a knee injury in the recent match against Boland.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Justin Basson, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Niel Marais, 22 Maphutha Dolo.
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Dan Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Entienne Swanepoel, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Hanro Liebenberg, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Duncan Matthews.
SHARKS vs GRIQUAS
The Sharks began their domestic season with a 33-10 bonus-point win against the Pumas last week. They will be favourites to secure another big victory when they return to Kings Park to host Griquas this weekend.
The Sharks have made several changes ahead of this clash. Curwin Bosch has been shifted to fullback, while Inny Radebe has been handed a start at flyhalf. Tera Mtembu comes into the starting XV to replace Jean-Luc du Preez, who is carrying an injury, while Thomas du Toit is backed at tighthead prop following news that Lourens Adriaanse will join the Springbok squad.
Liam Hendricks and Elgar Watts could make their debuts for Griquas in the Currie Cup after being named on the bench. The duo played for the Kings in Super Rugby.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Neil Maritz, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Ruan Botha, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Heimar Williams/Odwa Ndungane, 22 Rhyno Smith.
Griquas – 15 AJ Coertzen, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Johnathan Francke, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Clinton Swart, 9 Poerie van Rooyen, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 RJ Liebenberg (c), 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Jono Janse van Rensburg, 4 Mzanele Zito, 3 Stephan Kotze, 2 Marius Fourie, 1 Steph Roberts.
Subs: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Devon Martinus, 18 Liam Hendricks, 19 Sias Koen, 20 Steph Vermeulen, 21 Renier Botha, 22 Elgar Watts.
GOLDEN LIONS vs PUMAS
Following the Super Rugby final in Wellington, nine Lions players were named in the 31-man Springbok squad for the Rugby Championship Tests against Argentina. And yet the Lions' Currie Cup side still boasts a good blend of players and should be too strong for the Pumas at Ellis Park on Friday.
Eight players who featured in that final against the Hurricanes last week will compete against the Pumas this weekend. It's clear that the 2015 Currie Cup champs want to begin their title defence with a bang.
The Pumas leaked five tries against the Sharks last week. They will battle to contain a Lions side that's played some outstanding attacking rugby in the 2016 Super Rugby tournament, and topped many of the attacking categories. Their back row has received a timely boost, however, with the arrival of Renaldo Bothma, who will start at No 8.
Golden Lions – 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi (c), 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé (c), 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Steph de Wit, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Justin Ackerman, 18 MB Lusaseni, 19 Victor Sekekete, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Jacques Nel.
Pumas – 15 Justin van Staden, 14 Jean-Paul Lewis, 13 Hennie Skorbinski, 12 Marlou van Niekerk, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Nardus van der Walt, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Hugo Kloppers (c), 4 Wiehan Hay, 3 Louis Albertse, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Kwezi Mona.
Subs: 16 Herne Frank, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Jannie Stander, 19 Carel Greef, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Deon Helberg, 22 Devon Williams.
EP KINGS vs BOLAND
The Kings will begin their 2016 Currie Cup campaign against Premier Division returnees Boland in Port Elizabeth. And yet one is reluctant to install the hosts as favourites at this point in their history.
The Kings won just two games in the recent Super Rugby tournament. They battled to compete against the better teams, and conceded 684 points in all.
Following the Super Rugby tournament, a number of players left the union. EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd was liquidated, and the union scrambled to secure the services of new players as well as a new head coach. EP were supposed to face Griquas in round one, but due to their many issues, the match was postponed.
Ahead of the clash with Boland, new coach Barend Pieterse named a team that includes a mix of old and new players. Springbok centre Waylon Murray will be expected to make an impact at No 12, and there will be a lot of pressure on captain and loosehead prop Schalk Ferrerira.
Boland may fancy their chances of an upset this Saturday.
EP Kings – 15 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 14 Alcino Izaacs, 13 Johan Tromp, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Kobus Marais, 9 Ricky Schroeder, 8 Christiaan de Bruin, 7 Sebastian Ferreira, 6 Vince Jobo, 5 Cornel Hess, 4 Tazz Fuzani, 3 Vukile Sofisa, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira (c).
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Justin Forwood, 18 David Antonites, 19 Brandon Brown, 20 Jacques Fick, 21 Berton Klaasen, 22 Lungelo Goza.
Boland – 15 Nico Scheepers, 14 Sergio Torrens, 13 Ryan Nell (c), 12 Christopher Bosch, 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Adriaan Carelse, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Zandré Jordaan, 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Kenan Cronje, 5 Hanno Kitshoff, 4 Shaun McDonald, 3 Basil Short, 2 Chadley Wenn, 1 Stephanus Wessels.
Subs: 16 Francois Esterhuizen, 17 Francois Hanekom, 18 Joubert Horn, 19 Chaney Willemse, 20 Jovelian de Koker, 21 William van Wyk, 22 Craig Pheiffer.
Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix