The undefeated Free State Cheetahs will have an opportunity to effectively secure top spot in the Currie Cup standings when they take on the Golden Lions in Bloemfontein on Thursday night, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
FREE STATE CHEETAHS vs GOLDEN LIONS
The Cheetahs' impressive win over the Sharks last Saturday was their fifth in a row and took them four points clear at the top of the Premier Division log.
Another win would ensure they remain in a position to earn the right to host the final, particularly considering that they should back themselves to clinch bonus-point wins against the Pumas and Griquas in the coming weeks.
However, they will remain wary of a Lions side that is coming off the back of 58-32 thrashing of Western Province, with the fifth-placed Johannesburg-based team desperately seeking another win that would strengthen their position to secure a playoff berth.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Fred Zeilinga.
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 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 JP du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Pieter Scholtz, 18 Martin Muller, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Howard Mnisi.
BLUE BULLS vs GRIQUAS
After suffering disappointing defeats to the Cheetahs and Sharks, the Bulls have launched a timely surge in recent weeks, securing good wins over the Lions and Pumas to propel themselves to third in the standings.
They should be expected to clinch another positive result at Loftus on Friday night, and the Pretoria-based side can then turn their attention to clinching a bonus-point win over Boland that could well be enough to finish in the top two.
However, they can’t afford to underestimate Griquas, who have been the surprise package this season (winning four games and losing just one), although they now face a tough end to the season clashing with the Bulls, Western Province and Cheetahs.
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, 7 Nic de Jager, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Jason Jenkins, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Bjorn Basson/Divan Rossouw.
Griquas – 15 AJ Coertzen (c), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Poerie van Rooyen, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Jono Janse van Rensburg, 4 Mzwanele Zito, 3 Vlooi Kotzé, 2 AJ le Roux, 1 Steph Roberts.
Subs: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Devon Martinus, 18 Wandile Putuma, 19 Jonathan Adendorf, 20 Renier Botha, 21 André Swarts, 22 Eric Zana.
SHARKS vs EP KINGS
The Sharks have led the log for most of the season, but recent defeats to Western Province and the Cheetahs have left them clinging on to second place (with the Bulls level on log points).
However, they should be expected to comfortably clinch a bonus-point win on Saturday that would not only solidify their position, but also provide a much-needed morale boost ahead of a final fixture against the Lions, which follows a bye.
A feature of this match will be the expected return to action of Pat Lambie, who has been named on the bench after finally overcoming a serious concussion.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Wandile Mjekvu, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Francois Kleinhans, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 John-Hubert Meyer , 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle (c), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Patrick Lambie, 22 Neil Maritz.
EP Kings – TBC
WESTERN PROVINCE vs PUMAS
It’s been a disappointing season for Western Province to date, with last year’s runners-up having secured just two wins to end up dwindling down in sixth place on the log.
However, after suffering losses to three of the 'big' unions, a favourable run-in to the knockout phase is set to see them taking on the Pumas, Griquas and Boland.
If they can secure positive results in these fixtures, coupled with a result or two going their way, there is still a chance that they could sneak back into playoff contention. With this in mind, they’ll be determined to clinch a bonus-point win when they host the Pumas on Saturday.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Werner Kok, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Kobus van Dyk, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Chris van Zyl (c), 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Scott van Breda.
Pumas – 15 Devon Williams, 14 Ruwellyn Isbel, 13 Hoffmann Maritz, 12 Hennie Skorbinski, 11 JP lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Emile Temperman, 8 Renaldo Bothma (c), 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Louis Albertse, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 Kwezi Mona.
Subs: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Dee-Jay Terblanche, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Heinrich Steyl, 22 Tyler Fisher.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images