The Sharks and Free State Cheetahs will engage in a battle for ascendancy when they clash in a top-of-the-table encounter in Durban on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
SHARKS vs FREE STATE CHEETAHS
The Sharks suffered their first defeat of the season last weekend, which enabled the Cheetahs to close the gap at the top of the standings to just a solitary log point after the Free State side secured a bonus-point win over the EP Kings.
As it is, the Cheetahs have a game in hand over the Sharks, and a victory in Durban would put them in a strong position to finish the pool stages at the summit of the standings and earn the right to potentially host a final.
However, the Sharks will have plenty of incentive to bounce back from their disappointing defeat to WP, and have been boosted by the return of lock Stephan Lewies.
This is a game that could go either way, but the winners will put themselves in a position of power as the competition heads towards the business end.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 S’bura Sithole, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Ruan Botha/Jean Droste, 19 Jean Deysel/Francois Kleinhans, 20 Michael Claassens/Hanco Venter, 21 Heimar Williams, 22 Rhyno Smith.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 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 Michael van der Spuy.
GOLDEN LIONS vs WESTERN PROVINCE
There will also be plenty to play for when the Lions and Province clash in Johannesburg on Friday, with the two teams lying fifth and sixth on the log respectively, and equal on 12 log points.
Following the Lions’ 31-17 loss to the Bulls last weekend, coach Johan Ackermann has overhauled his run-on XV with three swaps in the pack and three in the backline, while in the WP ranks, Rynhardt Elstadt returns to boost the pack.
Both teams will know that a win is crucial if they are to keep their playoff hopes alive, and it should add plenty of spice to a match-up that serves as a repeat of last year’s domestic final.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Selom Gavor, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé (c), 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 JP du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Andries Ferreira, 19 Cyle Brink, 20 Ruaan Lerm/Stef de Wit, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Werner Kok, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Kobus van Dyk, 7 Jurie van Vuuren, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Chris van Zyl (c), 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jacques Vermeulen, 20 Eital Bredenkamp, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Scott van Breda.
PUMAS vs BLUE BULLS
The Bulls have blown hot and cold this season, but last weekend’s impressive win over the Lions sent out a clear reminder that they could still be a force to be reckoned with this year.
The Pretoria-based side also have a favourable run-in to the playoffs, with encounters against the Pumas, Griquas and Boland to come, which they would all expect to win.
Currently, the Bulls lie third on the log, and a bonus-point win over the Pumas on Saturday night could well see them emerge as strong contenders to finish in the top two.
Pumas – 15 Devon Williams, 14 Bernado Botha, 13 Hennie Skorbinski, 12 Marlou van Niekerk, 11 JP Lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Emile Temperman, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Wiehan Hay, 3 Marné Coetzee, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 De-Jay Terblanche.
Subs: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Louis Albertse, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Leighton van Wyk, 22 Ruwellyn Isbell.
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Nic de Jager, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Irné Herbst, 19 Roelof Smit, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Divan Rossouw.
Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix