The Sharks will need nothing short of a bonus-point victory over the Golden Lions if they are to maintain hopes of a home semi-final, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Sharks vs Golden Lions
A victory will be enough to guarantee their place in the semi-finals, but the Sharks will be looking for more at Kings Park on Friday night. Last weekend's demolition must be taken in context. The EP Kings are the bottom-placed team for a reason. The Sharks attack was much improved, but the quality of opposition contributed greatly to that.
The Lions have shown themselves a talented outfit, capable of devastating counter-attacking rugby. It will be a fascinating encounter of punch and counter-punch. The Sharks will need to cut out the errors if they're to make a go of it, though.
Paul Jordaan showed last week the form that saw him called-up to the Springboks earlier this season and the Sharks will be hoping he continues to improve outside of the promising André Esterhuzien. The Sharks pack has been boosted by the return of Stephan Lewies and Thomas du Toit. The timing couldn't have been much better with the semi-finals fast approaching.
The Lions will welcome back Marnitz Boshoff, whose return at flyhalf could make all the difference during the play-offs. Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe will freshen up the front row, with Armand van der Merwe set for an impact role later on.
JORDAAN'S STATS THAT MATTER
200 – The number of metres he ran in round eight (Rank 1)
3 – The number of clean breaks he made (Rank 2)
2 – The number of tries he scored (Rank 3)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 S'bura Sithole, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Tera Mtembu (c), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper/Monde Hadebe, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Monde Hadebe/Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 JC Astle, 20 Khaya Majola, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe (c), 12 Stokkies Hanekom, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Derick Minnie, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Mark Richards, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Pumas vs Blue Bulls
Two teams heading in opposite directions. For all their impressive rugby at the start of the season, the Pumas look likely to fall just short of a semi-final spot. A win against the Blue Bulls is non-negotiable. Unfortunately their aura of invincibility at home was shattered by Western Province last week and they seem to have run out of steam.
The Bulls weren't spectacular against the Cheetahs, but they got the job done. If they can do the same on Friday they'll have one foot in the semi-finals. Jacques-Louis Potgieter will provide them with the direction once again and they're unlikely to veer too far from the template that has served them well over the years.
They've made two changes for the short trip to Nelspruit, with Rudy Paige and Callie Visagie continuing their rotation with Piet van Zyl and Bongi Mbonambi.
The Pumas have made only one change to their side, where Justin van Staden is restored to the No 10 jersey in place of JC Roos, who misses out on selection altogether.
POTGIETER'S STATS THAT MATTER
85 – The number of points he's scored in this year's Currie Cup (Rank 2)
68 – The number of kicks he's made (Rank 2)
2 – The number of tries he's scored (Rank 4)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Pumas – 15 JW Bell, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rosco Speckman, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jaco Bouwer, 6 Corné Steenkamp (c), 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Frank Herne, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 DeJay Terblanche, 18 Uzair Cassiem, 19 RW Kember, 20 Dylon Frylinck, 21 Coenie van Wyk, 22 Jerome Pretorius.
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann (c), 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 Wiaan Liebenberg, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Jesse Kriel.
Free State Cheetahs vs Western Province
The Cheetahs will be rueing their loss to the Bulls last weekend. On the whole they could have few complaints, as they didn't do enough to win the match. They'll need an improvement against Western Province, who are all but assured top spot on the log and all that entails.
Coenie Oosthuizen struggled on his competitive return last weekend, where he turned in a rather anonymous 60-odd minutes. WP's front row is hardly renowned for their scrumming prowess, so he should have an easier outing on Saturday. He'll need to improve his work rate, though, if he hopes to find his way back into Heyneke Meyer's thinking before the end-of-year tour.
The Cheetahs have made two changes for this one after Rayno Benjamin and Jean Cook were ruled out through injury. JP du Plessis and Neil Claassen have stepped in, with Vincent Jobo and AJ Coertzen moving onto the bench.
Province have made five changes for the trip to Bloemfontein, four of them enforced. They'll field a new lock pairing of Rynhardt Elstadt and Manuel Carizza, while Dillyn Leyds will make his debut at fullback.
OOSTHUIZEN'S STATS THAT MATTER
2 – The number of penalties he conceded in round eight (Rank 2)
4 – The number of carries he made (Rank 52)
20 – The number of metres metres he made (Rank 80)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
FS 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 Labuschagné, 7 Neil Claassen, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Werner Lourens, 3 George Marich, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 19 Henco Venter, 19 Vincent Jobo, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 AJ Coertzen.
Western Province – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Oliver Kebble, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Griquas vs EP Kings
The EP Kings' season has been an unadulterated failure. The visit to Kimberley provides them with their penultimate opportunity to break their drought. Carlos Spencer has shown tactical naivity in his first crack at head coach, and his team have paid the price.
One of the few positives from the campaign have been the performances of Shane Gates. The 22-year-old local has put in some strong showings and hasn't shirked away from the physical stuff. They certainly have some talented youngsters in Siviwe Soyizwapi, Kevin Luiters and Lizo Gqoboka, but results will be required sooner rather than later.
Griquas are on the other end of the spectrum and will say goodbye to a number of senior players at the conclusion of the season. Marnus Schoeman, Ryno Barnes, Janro van Niekerk and Maks van Dyk will play their last home game for the union on Saturday.
The Kings will be fielding their fourth captain of the season after Darron Nell's participation has been cast in doubt. His place has been taken by Cameron Lindsay while, in the only other change, Tim Agaba replaces Stefan Willemse in the loose trio.
GATES'S STATS THAT MATTER
106 – The number of tackles he's made in this year's Currie Cup (Rank 5)
15 – The number of penalties he's conceded (Rank 15)
7 – The number of defenders he's beaten (Rank 13)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Griquas – 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Wayne Stevens (c), 11 PJ Vermeulen, 10 Dean Grant, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Carel Greeff, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Hugo Kloppers, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Janro van Niekerk.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Simon Westraadt, 18 Jonathan Adendorf, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Dustin Jinka, 21 Ederies Arendse, 22 Jacquin Jansen.
EP Kings – 15 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 14 Ronnie Cooke, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Ntabeni Dukisa, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Tobie Botes, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Devin Oosthuizen, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Steven Cummins, 4 Cameron Lindsay, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Albé de Swardt, 17 Charl du Plessis, 18 Darron Nell/Steven Sykes, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Scott van Breda.
Photo: Louis Botha/Gallo Images