The Currie Cup Premier Division semi-final race will come to a dramatic end this weekend as five teams battle it out for three remaining playoff spots in a thrilling finish to the pool stages, with a number of potential scenarios to spice up the weekend.
To add to the competitive nature of the round, spectators will see the return to action of several Springboks involved in the recently completed Castle Lager Rugby Championship.
The Cell C Sharks are guaranteed of hosting one of the semi-finals next week after earning the top position on the log, while DHL Western Province, the Toyota Free State Cheetahs, the Xerox Golden Lions and Vodacom Blue Bulls will go head-to-head for the other home semi-final as the competition – sponsored by Nashua and DirectAxis – reaches the business end. The Steval Pumas is also still in the running of finishing in the top four, although they will have to travel if they do manage that.
DHL Western Province, who are currently in second place on the log, may need only a victory in Durban achieve this feat as they boast a one-point cushion and a comprehensive points’ difference over the third-placed Toyota Free State Cheetahs, but this would require toppling log-leaders the Cell C Sharks in Durban. A defeat, in turn, could dash their semi-final aspirations completely.
The Xerox Golden Lions, meanwhile, will host the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in Johannesburg in the final pool match on Saturday, meaning these teams will know exactly what they need to do to finish in second place and in the top four respectively by the time they take to the field.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls and Steval Pumas will kick off the round in Pretoria on Friday and both sides will be desperate for a victory to stay in contention for a playoff spot, as a defeat without a bonus point for either DHL Western Province, the Toyota Free State Cheetahs or Xerox Golden Lions could see the winning team through to the top four.
The Mpumalanga side won only one of the last six fixtures between the teams, with that victory being a morale-boosting 51-15 victory in August, which is sure to inspire the visitors.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls named an unchanged starting side for the clash, with the only new face among the replacements being Travis Ismaiel, who replaces the concussed Ulrich Beyers.
The Steval Pumas, meanwhile, made five personnel changes, most of which were injury-enforced, which sees fullback Gerrit Smit, winger Selom Gavor, flankers Chris Cloete and Nardus van der Walt, and lock Jannie Stander earn starts.
The action will continue at Growthpoint Kings Park at 15h00 Saturday where the Cell C Sharks take on DHL Western Province, and while the home team will be determined to build winning momentum after a bye last week, the visitors will give everything to book a home semi-final.
The KwaZulu-Natalians have had a solid season and are currently on a winning run of 10 matches, while the opposition comes off a disappointing defeat against the Xerox Golden Lions, so will be determined to bounce back from to ensure that they finish in the top four and find their rhythm ahead of the knock-out stages.
Fuelling the Cape side’s motivation, the last time DHL Western Province defeated the Cell C Sharks at home was in 2012, while the home team pipped them 21-20 in Cape Town earlier in the season, meaning it could be a nail-biting clash.
The only change to the Cell C Sharks run-on team is the return of centre Lukhanyo Am in place of Tristan Blewett, while the bench has been boosted by Springboks Chiliboy Ralepelle and Jean-Luc du Preez.
DHL Western Province welcomed back Springbok winger Dillyn Leyds and prop Wilco Louw to their starting line-up, with the only other change being the inclusion of flanker Jaco Coetzee in the loose trio.
The grand finale to the pool stages between the Xerox Golden Lions and Toyota Free State Cheetahs in Johannesburg at 17h15 on Saturday is expected to be equally thrilling.
The Free Stater’s have won the last three outings between the sides, which included a narrow 30-24 victory against the Gauteng outfit in August, but they lost the three matches prior to that, which will boost the home team’s confidence.
The Xerox Golden Lions bolstered their team with Springboks as they recalled fullback Andries Coetzee, winger Courtnall Skosan and scrumhalf Ross Cronje among six personnel changes to the starting team, while hooker Malcolm Marx has been named on the bench following the conclusion of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs made wholesale changes to their side with GUINNESS PRO14 coach, Rory Duncan, resuming the head coaching duties as the European competition enjoy a two weeks break, which sees hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld lead the side, Springbok Raymond Rhule start at fullback and Springbok Sevens play-maker Rosko Specman on the wing.
Currie Cup Round 14 fixtures:
Friday, 13 October:
Vodacom Blue Bulls v Steval Pumas
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Warrick Gelant, Duncan Matthews, Burger Odendaal (capt), JT Jackson, Johnny Kotze, Marnitz Boshoff, Ivan van Zyl, Nic de Jager, Tim Agaba, Marco van Staden, Aston Fortuin, Ruben van Heerden, Conraad van Vuuren, Edgar Marutlulle, Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Johan Grobbelaar, Matthys Basson, Jano Venter, Boom Prinsloo, Piet van Zyl, Tony Jantjies, Travis Ismaiel.
Steval Pumas – Gerrit Smit, Selom Gavor, Jerome Pretorius, Hennie Skorbinski (capt), Ruwellyn Isbell, Kobus Marais, Stefan Ungerer, Willie Engelbrecht, Nardus van der Walt, Chris Cloete, Hugo Kloppers, Jannie Stander, Pieter Scholtz, Marko Janse van Rensburg, Khwezi Mona. Replacements: Frankie Herne, De-Jay Terblanche, Cameron Lindsay, Hilton Lobberts, Francois Kleinhans, Reynier van Rooyen, Gerrie Labuschagne.
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge & Jaco Pretorius
TMO: Pro Legoete
Prediction: Vodacom Blue Bulls by nine.
Saturday, 14 October
Cell C Sharks v DHL Western Province
Cell C Sharks – Garth April, Odwa Ndungane, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw, S’bu Nkosi, Curwin Bosch, Michael Claassens, Daniel du Preez, Jacques Vermeulen, Keegan Daniel, Ruan Botha (capt), Tyler Paul, Ross Geldenhuys, Franco Marais, Thomas du Toit. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Juan Schoeman, Jean Droste, Jean-Luc du Preez, Louis Schreuder, Tristan Blewett, Kobus van Wyk.
DHL Western Province – Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, Huw Jones, Ruhan Nel, Dillyn Leyds, Robert du Preez, Dewaldt Duvenage, Nizaam Carr, Cobus Wiese, Jaco Coetzee, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl (capt), Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements: Ramone Samuels, Caylib Oosthuizen, Jan de Klerk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Justin Phillips, Werner Kok, EW Viljoen.
Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry & Archie Sehlako
TMO: Willie Vos
Prediction: Cell C Sharks by five.
Xerox Golden Lions v Toyota Free State Cheetahs
Xerox Golden Lions – Andries Coetzee, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco van der Walt, Ross Cronje, Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink, Len Massyn, Marvin Orie, Andries Ferreira, Jacobie Adriaanse, Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen (capt). Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith, Rhyno Herbst, Robert Kruger/ Hacjivah Dayimani, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Ashlon Davids, Sylvian Mahuza.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs – Raymond Rhule, Rosko Specman, Nico Lee, William Small-Smith, Makazole Mapimpi, Ernst Stapelberg, Tian Meyer, Oupa Mohoje, Henco Venter, Paul Schoeman, Reniel Hugo, Justin Basson, Johan Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld (capt), Charles Marais. Replacements: Ox Nche, Jacques du Toit, Rynier Bernardo, Junior Pokomela, Shaun Venter, Ali Mjijima, Luther Obi.
Venue: Emirates Airline park, Johannesburg
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs & Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Johan Greeff
Prediction: Xerox Golden Lions by three.