The Vodacom Blue Bulls or Golden Lions will emerge as outright Currie Cup front-runners on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Blue Bulls vs Golden Lions
The unbeaten log-leading sides are set to go head to head in a highly anticipated trans-Jukskei derby at Loftus, with just a solitary log point separating the two sides, while third-placed Western Province dwell nine points behind. So, while at this point it’s looking like a two-horse race towards the final, either the Bulls or Lions will be able to open up some daylight at the top of the log as the competition heads towards the halfway mark.
The free-flowing Bulls have been extremely impressive this season, and it’s no wonder Lions coach Johan Ackermann acknowledged that their rivals were a dangerous and unpredictable opponent.
The Lions made a bright and breezy start to the season, and although they have failed to produce completely convincing performances over the past couple of weeks, they remain a formidable foe.
Ackermann has once again opted to effect a number of changes to his side, while the Bulls have been boosted by the return of Deon Stegmann and Dean Greyling, with Jan Serfontein also set to start his first game of the competition.
Blue Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (c), 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Deon Stegmann, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Burger Odendaal.
Golden Lions – Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Stephan de Witt, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: Malcolm Marx, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 MB Lusaseni, 19 Kwagga Smith, 20 Jaco van der Walt, 21 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 22 Sampie Mastriet.
Sharks vs Western Province
This should be another intriguing clash between two sides that harbour considerable ambitions despite failing to really fire so far this season.
Western Province secured a morale-boosting win over Griquas last weekend, which broke a two-match losing streak, but coach John Dobson is still looking for vast improvements.
Similarly, Sharks coach Gary Gold will be hoping for more out of his troops after two recent but unconvincing victories over the Kings and Pumas.
Joe Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane interestingly move to flyhalf and fullback respectively for this clash, while in the WP camp, stand-in Nizaam Carr failed a late fitness test — a blow for the defending champs.
Sharks – 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Gerhard Engelbrecht, 2 Monde Hadebe, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 David McDuling, 19 Christiaan de Bruin, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Heimar Williams, 22 Garth April.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom (c), 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Demetri Catrakilis, 22 Kobus van Wyk.
EP Kings vs Free State Cheetahs
A recent mini-resurgence from the Cheetahs was somewhat stunted with a loss to the Bulls last weekend, but the team from Bloemfontein should expectedly return to winning ways on Friday.
Springboks Oupa Mohoje and Cornal Hendricks will start the match, and with the Kings battling with a number of injuries, the Cheetahs should come into the clash quietly confident. However, the Kings have produced some gutsy performances in recent weeks and cannot be underestimated.
EP Kings – TBC
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Cornal Hendricks, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje (c), 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 BG Uys.
Subs: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Teunis Nieuwoudt, 18 Francois Uys, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Freddy Ngoza, 21 Ruan de Bruin, 22 Sias Ebersohn.
Griquas vs Pumas
The Pumas can count themselves rather unlucky to not have clinched what would have been an incredible third successive win over the Sharks last weekend.
Nevertheless, the Pumas remain a side that regularly punches above their weight, and they will be determined to produce a clinical performance against the winless Griquas on Saturday in search of their third win of the season.
Pumas coach MJ Mentz has made a host of changes to his side missing injured Bok Vincent Koch, and while they will be wary of a desperate Griquas team, this is a game they should be targeting for victory.
Griquas – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Ruhan Nel, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Jacquin Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Kraai Adendorff, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Jaco Nepgen, 3 Stephan Kotzé, 2 AJ le Roux, 1 Steph Roberts.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Kop van der Westhuizen, 19 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg, 20 Wendal Wehr, 21 Dylan Frylink, 22 Gouws Prinsloo.
Pumas – 15 Hoffmann Maritz, 14 Bernado Botha, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Deon Helberg, 11 Rosco Spekman, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Francois de Klerk (c), 8 Jason-Colin Fraser, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 4 Rudi Mathee, 3 De-Jay Terblanché, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Frank Herne, 17 Khwezi Mona, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Jaco Bouwer, 20 Reynier van Rooyen, 21 Hennie Skorbinski, 22 Wilmaure Louw.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix