The Blue Bulls and the Sharks clash at Loftus on Saturday in a match that will be crucial in deciding their play-off ambitions, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Blue Bulls vs Sharks
One gets the feeling that neither of these teams have hit their straps yet, but with the play-offs fast approaching, time is running out. The Sharks were much improved on attack against the Cheetahs, but turnover ball cost them once again. The Blue Bulls, although comfortable in the victory over the EP Kings, were unable to claim a bonus point as ill-discipline halted their momentum. Both teams are improving, but only one will be in the top four come the end of the weekend.
In team news, regular captain Deon Stegmann misses out after receiving a red card in the victory over the Kings. Jono Ross will assume the captaincy duties, while Wiaan Liebenburg will take over the openside role. Elsewhere, Rudy Paige comes in at scrumhalf, with Sampie Mastriet taking over on the right wing. Promising fullback Jesse Kriel has recovered from an ankle injury and will take his place on the bench.
In a bid to counter the Bulls' kicking game, the Sharks have made a number of backline changes. SP Marais returns at fullback, as does Lwazi Mvovo, who slots in on the left wing. S'bura Sithole has been shifted onto the opposite flank to accommodate the return of Paul Jordaan at outside centre. Up front, lock JC Astle makes a return from injury, while Stephan Lewies misses out with a recurring knee problem.
SHARKS' STATS THAT MATTER
67 – The number of offloads they've made (Rank 2)
49 – The number of defenders they've beaten (Rank 4)
35 – The number of clean breaks they've made (Rank 2)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Jesse Kriel.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 S’bura Sithole, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Conrad Hoffmann, 8 Tera Mtembu (c), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 JC Astle, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Johan Meyer, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 Tim Swiel, 22 Tonderai Chavhanga.
Golden Lions vs Pumas
The Golden Lions were back to their swashbuckling best against Western Province last weekend, with Armand van der Merwe and Kwagga Smith cutting the usually dependable Province defence to shreds. Johan Ackermann spoke earlier this week of transforming Ellis Park into a fortress for the remainder of the season, starting with this tough assignment against Jimmy Stonehouse's well-drilled Pumas team.
The Lions have made just one change to the side that outplayed WP, with Martin Muller replacing the injured MB Lusaseni at lock. Among the replacements, Malcolm Marx remains doubtful and is bracketed with Willie Wepener, while Derick Minnie will make his return from the bench.
Meanwhile, the Pumas have also made just one change. Dylon Frylinck has recovered from injury to take over at scrumhalf, with Reynier van Rooyen dropping to the bench.
LIONS' STATS THAT MATTER
5,689 – The number of metres they've run (Rank 1)
76 – The number of offloads they've made (Rank 1)
44 – The number of clean breaks they've made (Rank 1)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe (c), 12 Stokkies Hanekom, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ricky Schroeder, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx/Willie Wepener, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Derick Minnie, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Mark Richards, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Pumas – 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 Jerome Pretorius, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rosko Speckman, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Dylon Frylinck, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Corné Steenkamp (c), 5 Giant Mtyanda, 4 Frikkie Spies, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Frankie Herne, 17 DeJay Terblanche, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Jaco Bouwer, 20 Reynier van Rooyen, 21 JC Roos, 22 JW Bell.
Western Province vs Griquas
Province were outmatched and outmuscled on the highveld last weekend as their intensity dropped for the first time this season. The loss of Siya Kolisi will be a major blow for Allister Coetzee, whose team relies on turnover ball to execute their counter-attacking game plan. Griquas have troubled them at Newlands before and come into this one on the back of two successive victories.
Coach Allister Coetzee has responded to the first defeat of the season by making five changes to his side. Demetri Catrakilis returns at flyhalf, while Justin Geduld will make a first Currie Cup start on the left wing. Up front, the injured Siya Kolisi (knee) and Stephan Coetzee (ankle) are replaced by Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Scarra Ntubeni respectively. The final change sees Brok Harris continue his rotation with Pat Cilliers at tighthead prop.
Griquas coach Hawies Fourie has made three changes for this one, all in the forward pack. Maks van Dyk replaces the injured Ewald van der Westhuizen in the front row, while Hugo Kloppers will make his first Currie Cup start at lock. In the final change, Carel Greeff makes way for Burger Schoeman, with Ruaan Lerm shifting to the side of the scrum.
PROVINCE'S STATS THAT MATTER
1,191 – The number of tackles made (Rank 1)
468 – The number of carries made (Rank 7)
19 – The number of turnovers won (Rank 4)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Justin Geduld, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Rohan Kitshoff, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Kurt Coleman.
Griquas – 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 PJ Vermeulen, 10 Francois Brummer (c), 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Burger Schoeman, 7 Ruaan Lerm, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Steph Roberts.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Janro van Niekerk, 18 Jonathan Adendorf, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Abrie Griesel, 21 Dean Grant, 22 Danie Dames.
EP Kings vs Free State Cheetahs
The EP Kings will hope the commencement of the cross-section fixtures brings a change in fortune. They managed just one losing bonus point in their six Section X matches, and were comfortably beaten by the Bulls last weekend. Both teams like to keep ball in hand, so it should make for an entertaining match, despite the result looking like a foregone conclusion.
Carlos Spencer has made several changes to his side as the Kings go in search of their first victory. Siviwe Soyizwapi replaces Scott van Breda at fullback, while Tim Whitehead's injury has meant a shuffle in the backline. Ronnie Cooke moves to outside centre, with Siyanda Grey coming in on the right wing. Up front Martin Ferreira and Darron Nell replace the injured duo of Edgar Marutlulle and David Bulbring, while CJ van der Linde is relegated to the bench following a mixed showing last weekend.
The Free State Cheetahs have been boosted by the return of Raymond Rhule and Clayton Blommetjies, after both missed the draw with the Sharks through injury. Blommetjies will slot in at fullback for the injured Rayno Benjamin, while JP du Plessis moves onto the left wing.
KINGS' STATS THAT MATTER
243 – The number of points they've conceded (Rank 1)
109 – The number of points they've scored (Rank 8)
88 – The number of kicks from hand (Rank 8)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
EP Kings – 15 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 14 Siyanda Grey, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Ntabeni Dukisa, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Devin Oosthuizen, 6 Shaun McDonald, 5 Darron Nell, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Albe de Swardt, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Steven Cummins, 19 Stefan Willemse, 20 Tobie Botes, 21 Dwayne Jenner, 22 Scott van Breda.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 JP du Plessis, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Lappies Labuschagne, 7 Neil Claassen, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Henco Venter, 3 George Marich, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 AJ Le Roux, 17 Dolph Botha, 18 Brendon Groenewald, 19 Vincent Jobo, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 AJ Coertzen.
Photo: Sabelo Mngoma/BackpagePix