The early-season favourites clash at Newlands on Saturday in what should be an enthralling affair, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Western Province vs Golden Lions
Much has been made of the fact that the Springboks won't participate in this year's Currie Cup. Detractors have called the tournament a glorified Vodacom Cup, shorn of the country's top talent. The performances of Western Province and the Lions this season have shown that there's life yet in the old tournament.
Both teams have played with verve and vigour, transitioning from defence into attack with seamless fluidity. They currently share top spot, just reward for their attacking philosophy. Saturday's match should be a celebration of all that is good about the Currie Cup, and will further show that it's lost none of its lustre.
Province coach Allister Coetzee has rewarded his team for their effort against the Blue Bulls, by selecting the same combination for the match at Newlands. Catrakilis will look to provide the balance between boot and ball in hand, while the loose trio of Nizaam Carr, Michael Rhodes and a revitalised Siya Kolisi will look to do damage around the park.
The Lions had to say goodbye to their regular captain Warren Whiteley, who departed for Argentina following the victory over the EP Kings. Derick Minnie will captain the side in his absence, with Willie Britz and Warwick Tecklenburg rounding out a new-look loose trio. There's no place in the starting XV for Jaco Kriel, who will have to make his impact from the bench.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Ruan Botha, 19 Rynhardt Elstadt, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Jaco Taute.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 MB Lusaseni, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Martin Muller, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Sharks vs Free State Cheetahs
Just below those two on the log, the Sharks will play host to the Cheetahs at Kings Park in Saturday's final game. The team from Durban has enjoyed a low-profile start to the tournament, with wins over Griquas and the Pumas coming with little fanfare. The defending champions struggled for long periods to break down the Pumas in Durban last weekend, only gaining the ascendancy after the introduction of Pat Lambie.
Lambie will play no part this weekend after travelling with the Boks to Argentina. Zeilinga will continue at flyhalf, with coach Brad Macleod-Henderson maintaining the backline that misfired against the Pumas. He has moved to freshen up his pack, though, with Matt Stevens and Dale Chadwick getting their chance in the front row. An injury to JC Astle means Etienne Oosthuizen will shift to lock, opening the door for Francois Kleinhans to pack down on the side of the scrum.
The Cheetahs were dealt a double injury blow this week, with flyhalf Elgar Watts and combative No 8 Boom Prinsloo being ruled out of the trip. Willie du Plessis and Neil Claassen are both capable replacements, but there's no doubt Rory Duncan's side is weaker for their absence. The Cheetahs were better against Griquas last weekend, but they'll need to take their game to the next level if they're to challenge the Sharks on their home turf.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Tera Mtembu (c), 7 Francois Kleinhans, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies / Johan Meyer, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Heimar Williams, 22 Lionel Cronje.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Neil Claassen, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Dolph Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Kevin Stevens.
Subs: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 George Marich, 18 Heno Venter, 19 Vincent Jobo, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 JP du Plessis.
Blue Bulls vs EP Kings
While the Sharks and Cheetahs have failed to reach the heights expected of them so far, the Bulls and Kings have plunged to new depths with their respective campaigns. The side from Pretoria has been on the receiving end of two hidings, while the Currie Cup newcomers will be looking back with nostalgia on life in the First Division. Billed as a battle of the wooden spoon, this match provides both sides with a great opportunity to pick up their first victories. Just don't expect too much quality on show.
Frans Ludeke has read the riot act to his squad, making seven changes to the side that capitulated in Cape Town last weekend. Fullback Jesse Kriel, centre William Small-Smith, flyhalf Tony Jantjies, scrumhalf Rudi Paige and hooker Bongi Mbonambi all get starting berths, while Dean Greyling returns at loosehead prop following his suspension.
Carlos Spencer has resisted the urge to make wholesale changes to his starting XV, instead opting to tweak things here and there. Steven Sykes and Darron Nell return to the second row to lend the side some experience, while Luke Watson will make a welcome return after missing the loss to the Lions with flu. Watson was Man of the Match in their opener against Province, and could well be a nuisance for the Bulls at the breakdown.
Blue Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Tony Jantjies, 9 Rudi Paige, 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 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Wiaan Liebenburg, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
EP Kings – 15 Scott van Breda, 14 Ronnie Cooke, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Luke Watson (c), 7 Paul Schoeman, 6 Stefan Willemse, 5 Steven Sykes, 4 Darron Nell, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Mike van Vuuren, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Steven Cummins, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Jaco Grobler, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Siyanda Grey.
Pumas vs Griquas
While there may be more glamorous matches on show this weekend, the meeting between the Pumas and Griquas in Nelspruit could well produce the goods. Both sides are likely to throw caution to the wind in a bid to pick up five valuable log points, and previous matches suggest the winner will do just that. The last six Currie Cup fixtures between these two have produced an average scoreline of 37-28 in favour of the visitors. The evidence points towards a try-fest, let's hope it comes to fruition.
Both teams have made a number of changes, with Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse overhauling the front row who struggled against the powerful Sharks pack. Vincent Koch is the only survivor from the match at Kings Park, switching to tighthead, while Swys du Toit and Corné Fourie will slot in alongside him. Elsewhere, JW Bell misses out, with Heinrich Steyl taking his place in the last line of defence.
Griquas coach Hawies Fourie has freshened things up following consecutive defeats, with Ikeys flyhalf Dean Grant getting his first start at Currie Cup level. His inclusion has seen Francois Brummer shift to fullback, while former Lions centre Doppies le Grange is in line to make his debut from the bench.
Pumas – 15 Heinrich Steyl, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Trompie Pretorius, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Corné Steenkamp (c), 5 Giant Mtyanda, 4 Frikkie Spies, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Swys du Toit, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Frankie Herne, 17 Dee-Day Terblanche, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Jaco Bouwer, 20 Dylan Frylink, 21 JC Roos, 22 Rosko Speckman.
Griquas – 15 Francois Brummer, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Wayne Stevens (c), 11 PJ Vermeulen, 10 Dean Grant, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Ruan Lerm, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Jonathan Adendorf, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Steph Roberts.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Maks van Dyk, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Abrie Griesel, 21 Doppies la Grange, 22 Niel Marais.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix