The Golden Lions and Sharks will be essentially competing for a playoff place when they face off at Ellis Park on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
GOLDEN LIONS vs SHARKS
This encounter, which kicks off the action in the final round of the pool stages, has effectively become a quarter-final for both teams. The Sharks are currently third on the log, just three points ahead of the fifth-placed Lions.
In the remaining fixtures, Western Province would be expected to comfortably defeat Boland at home to secure their playoff place, while the Cheetahs are already assured of finishing in top spot, with the Blue Bulls lying second.
A loss for the Sharks could see them miss out on the semi-finals for a second successive year, which would be a bitter pill to swallow considering that they led the log for much of this season.
Similarly, it would be quite an upset if defending champions the Lions failed to progress to the playoffs this year after going through the entire season undefeated in 2015.
The Sharks have been boosted by the return of Keegan Daniel (from injury), and Lwazi Mvovo and Lourens Adriaanse (from the Boks), while the Lions could include Malcolm Marx on their bench.
It should be an enthralling encounter, with the Lions perhaps just marginal favourites to emerge victorious.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Jaques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Kwagga Smith (c), 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 JP du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Cyle Brink, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Howard Mnisi, 22 Sylvian Mahuza.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse , 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Stephan Lewies/Jean Droste, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Garth April, 22 Wandile Mjekvu.
WESTERN PROVINCE vs BOLAND
A few weeks ago, WP looked very much in danger of missing out on the playoffs, but back-to-back bonus-point wins over the Pumas and Griquas has revitalised their campaign.
With Springbok Damian de Allende returning to bolster their backline, WP should be expected to secure another full haul of log points to secure their progression to the semi-finals.
Should they achieve this, and the Lions beat the Sharks, WP could even finish third and avoid a semi-final encounter with the highflying Cheetahs.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Scott van Breda, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Chris van Zyl (c), 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 JP Smith, 19 Dave Ribbans, 20 Jurie van Vuuren, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Werner Kok.
Boland – 15 Adriaan Carelse, 14 Logan Basson, 13 Gerrit van Wyk, 12 PJ Vermeulen, 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Theuns Kotze, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Zandré Jordaan, 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 Hanno Kitshoff, 4 Shaun McDondald, 3 Francois Hanekom, 2 Clemen Lewis (c), 1 Basil Short.
Subs: 16 Francois Esterhuyzen, 17 Enoch Mnyaka, 18 Linda Thwala, 19 Wayne Wilschut, 20 Joubert Horn, 21 Gerhard Jordaan, 22 Sergio Torrens.
FREE STATE CHEETAHS vs GRIQUAS
The Cheetahs have been in irrepressible form this season, cruising to seven successive wins to ensure they will finish top of the log and earn the right to home-ground advantage throughout the playoffs.
The biggest danger for them on Saturday will be the threat of complacency now that top spot is secured, but they’ll also be aware of the importance of maintaining momentum as they head into the knockout stage.
With this in mind, they have made just three changes to their team, with Ox Nche, Henco Venter and Raymond Rhule coming into the starting lineup.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Willem Serfontein, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 William Small-Smith.
Griquas – 15 AJ Coertzen (c), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 André Swarts, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Renier Botha, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 Jono Janse van Rensburg, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Mzwanele Zito, 4 Kraai Adendorf, 3 Liam Hendriks, 2 Marius Fourie, 1 Steph Roberts.
Subs: 16 Sidney Tobias, 17 Devoin Martinus, 18 Steven Meiring, 19 Thabo Mabuza, 20 Steven Moir, 21 Eric Zana, 22 Nthabeni Dukisa.
EP KINGS vs PUMAS
There’s not much that can be said for this basement battle between two winless teams, who now only have a bit of pride to play for.
The Kings were hammered by 64 points last weekend, while the Pumas were punished by the Cheetahs, but both teams will be motivated to end their season by avoiding the wooden spoon with a winning result.
EP Kings – TBC
Pumas – 15 Devon Williams, 14 JP Lewis, 13 Tyler Fisher, 12 Hoffman Maritz, 11 Leighton van Wyk, 10 Heinrich Steyl, 9 Emile Temperman, 8 Renaldo Bothma (c), 7 Carel Greeff, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Jeremy Jordaan, 3 Louis Albertse, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 Dee-Jay Terblanche.
Subs: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Marné Coetzee, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 Reuben Johannes, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Deon Helberg, 22 Ruwellyn Isbel.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images