Round two of Premier Division begins
The six Absa Currie Premier Division teams will receive a stark reminder this weekend that every remaining match counts as round two of the series kicks off.
With only eight log points separating log-leaders DHL Western Province from the last-placed GWK Griquas, the competition remains wide open, and is expected to come down to the wire as the final stages approaches, especially given how well the teams know each other.
This is expected to bring the best out of the teams, as the pace-setters would be wary that a slip-up could result in a tumble down the standings, while the teams at the foot of the log will take comfort from the fact that a victory against one of the top sides could result in a significant jump up the standings.
In Friday’s match, the Toyota Free State Cheetahs meet the MTN Golden Lions in Bloemfontein, and on Saturday GWK Griquas host the Sharks in Kimberley and the Vodacom Blue Bulls take on DHL Western Province at Loftus Versfeld.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs MTN Golden Lions
The clash in Bloemfontein could be thrilling given the attacking prowess within the Toyota Free State Cheetahs and MTN Golden Lions teams. Despite winning only two of their five matches so far, the Lions lead the try-scoring statistics with the Blue Bulls after crossing the tryline 17 times. This has earned the Johannesburg-based side three bonus points for tries. This will prompt the Cheetahs to pay special attention to their defence, although the Bloemfontein side will also look to the likes of Raymond Rhule and Sarel Pretorius to spark some magic on attack. That said the battle up-front will be big as both sides boast tough packs. The Lions, in particular, have bulked up their front row by naming former Bulls prop Bees Roux alongside physical hooker Willie Wepener and CJ van der Linde to increase their power in the scrums. Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske made only two changes to his starting team that went down 26-10 against the Blue Bulls last week with lock Waltie Vermeulen and No8 Davon Raubenheimer replacing the injured Lood de Jager and Philip van der Walt respectively.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller; Riaan Smit, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule; Elgar Watts, Sarel Pretorius; Davon Raubenheimer, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo (capt); Waltie Vermeulen, Teboho Mohoje; Rossouw de Klerk, Hercu Liebenberg, Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Wian du Preez, Freddy Ngoza, Tertius Daniller, Kevin Luiters, Willie du Plessis, Piet Lindeque.
MTN Golden Lions: Marnitz Boshoff, Andries Coetzee, Robert de Bruyn, Dylan Des Fountain, Anthony Volmink, Elton Jantjies, Tian Meyer, Willie Britz, Derick Minnie (capt), Warwick Tecklenberg, Franco van der Merwe, Ruan Venter, Bees Roux, Willie Wepener, CJ van der Linde. Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen, Hugo Klopper, Jaco Kriel, Ross Cronje, Deon Helberg, Ruhan Nel.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Lusanda Jam, Oregopotse Rametsi
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee
GWK Griquas vs The Sharks
GWK Griquas will look to make the most of their home ground advantage when they line up against the Sharks in Kimberley where the Durban side went down 22-15 last season. The hosts will also take comfort from the fact that they pipped the Sharks 32-30 in their round-one clash. The Durban team, however, have looked like a force when things click, and will look to achieve this with an eye on reclaiming the top spot on the log. They will also aim to expose Griquas’ permeable defence as the side have leaked 16 tries in their five matches. Both teams welcome back key locks for the clash, with the talented Pieter-Steph du Toit earning his first Currie Cup start this season after an injury layoff, while Rory Arnold has been included in the Griquas engine room after being cleared of biting during their clash against the Cheetahs two weeks ago. Griquas have also recalled star players Nico Scheepers and JP Nel into the starting team.
GWK Griquas: PJ Vermeulen; Nico Scheepers, JP Nel, Howard Mnisi, Rocco Jansen; Francois Brummer, Marnus Hugo; Carel Greeff, Burger Schoeman, Marnus Schoeman, Strand Kruger, Rory Arnold, Nick Schonert, Ryno Barnes (capt), Steph Roberts. Replacements: Matt Dobson, Brummer Badenhorst, Patrick O’Brien, RJ Liebenberg, Jacques Coetzee, Du Randt Gerber, Gouws Prinsloo.
The Sharks: SP Marais; Sizo Maseko, Louis Ludik, Tim Whitehead, Lwazi Mvovo; Butch James, Charl McLeod; Jacques Botes (capt), Jean Deysel, Keegan Daniel; Pieter-Steph du Toit, Edwin Hewitt; Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper, Danie Mienie. Replacements: Monde Hadebe, Dale Chadwick, Peet Marais, Justin Downey, Cobus Reinach, Fred Zeilinga, Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jason Jaftha, Francois de Bruin
TMO: Willie Roos with JJ Wagner in training
Vodacom Blue Bulls vs DHL Western Province
The battle of Loftus Versfeld is expected to be epic as the Vodacom Blue Bulls and DHL Western Province go-head-to-head. A victory for Western Province would in all likelihood keep them in pole position on the log table, while a victory for the Pretoria team would allow them to close the gap between themselves and the pace-setters after winning only two of their first five matches. The last time the teams met was in the opening round of the competition, which saw them play to a 24-24 draw. This clash is expected to be equally tight, as both teams rely heavily on their forwards to get on the front foot. With regular Western Province skipper Deon Fourie injured, lock De Kock Steenkamp will lead the team alongside debutante lock Taz Fuzani, who made a name for himself in the FNB Varsity Shield competition. Utility forward Michael Rhodes, meanwhile, moves into the loose trio. Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar recalled centre Ulrich Beyers into the starting team, with Waylon Murray dropping to the bench, while scrumhalf Rudy Paige will start in place of Ruan Snyman who has been released to play rugby in France.
Vodacom Blue Bulls: Jürgen Visser, Sampie Mastriet, Ulrich Beyers, Francois Venter, Akona Ndungane, Handré Pollard, Rudy Paige, Jono Ross (capt), Jacques du Plessis, Wiaan Liebenberg, Grant Hattingh, Paul Willemse, Frik Kirsten, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Marcel van der Merwe. Replacements: Bandise Maku, Dean Greyling, David Bullbring, Jacques Engelbrecht, Lohan Jacobs, Waylon Murray, Clayton Blommetjies.
DHL Western Province: Gio Aplon; Gerhard van den Heever, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Kurt Coleman, Louis Schreuder; Nizaam Carr, Michael Rhodes, Rynhardt Elstadt; De Kock Steenkamp (capt), Taz Fuzani; Pat Cilliers, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Michael Willemse, Brok Harris, Gerbrandt Grobler, Rohan Kitshoff, Nic Groom, Gary van Aswegen, Michael van der Spuy.
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge, Sieg van Staden
TMO: Johan Greeff with Pieter de Bruin in training