The unpredictability of the opening rounds of the Absa Currie Cup has kept pundits guessing, with five away-wins in nine matches.
But despite the unpredictability of the scores, one factor which has been consistent is the South African tradition of closely fought forward battles.
This weekend will be no different with the packs set to take centre stage as the teams look to gain momentum in the competition.
The MTN Golden Lions meet DHL Western Province at Ellis Park in the opening match of the weekend on Friday, and on Saturday the Toyota Free State Cheetahs take on GWK Griquas in Bloemfontein and The Sharks face the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Durban.
MTN Golden Lions vs DHL Western Province
The clash in Johannesburg is expected to be thrilling as DHL Western Province look to maintain their unbeaten run, while the MTN Golden Lions will be determined to build on their morale-boosting 62-23 victory against the Blue Bulls.
Given Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies’ familiarity with the structures at Western Province following his stint with the DHL Stormers during the Vodacom Super Rugby season, it was no surprise that Lions coach Johan Ackermann named him at pivot.
But Allister Coetzee also bolstered his starting team with hard-running hooker Tiaan Liebenberg, who escaped sanctions after being found guilty of striking a player with his arm.
With both teams fielding physical packs, the forwards will be expected to lay a solid foundation for the exciting backs to make their presence felt. This will pave the way for a clash featuring a balance of tactical play and running rugby.
MTN Golden Lions: Marnitz Boshoff; Deon Helberg, Robert De Bruyn, Dylan Des Fountain, Anthony Volmink; Elton Jantjies, Guy Cronje; Lambert Groenewald, Derick Minnie (capt), Warwick Tecklenburg; Franco van der Merwe, Willie Britz; Ruan Dreyer, Willie Wepener, CJ van der Linde. Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen, Hugo Kloppers, JJ Breedt, Jaco Kriel, Tian Meyer, Andries Coetzee.
DHL Western Province: Gio Aplon; Gerhard van den Heever, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Kurt Coleman, Nic Groom; Nizaam Carr, Rynhardt Elstadt, Deon Fourie (capt); De Kock Steenkamp, Michael Rhodes; Pat Cilliers, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff. Replacement: Scarra Ntubeni, Brok Harris, Gerbrandt Grobler, Rohan Kitshoff, Louis Schreuder, Tim Swiel, Michael van der Spuy.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Sieg van Staden
TMO: Willie Roos
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Date: 30 August 2013
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs GWK Griquas
The forward battle in Bloemfontein will also be decisive as both teams pride themselves on their physicality in the scrums and at the breakdowns.
Interestingly Toyota Free State Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske opted for live-wire Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane at loosehead after switching the player to the other side of the scrum last week.
With Griquas thin on locks as Ligtoring Landman, Jaco Nepgen and Jonathan Adendorf are all the sidelines, and GWK Griquas coach Pote Human forced to draft in club player Patrick O’Brien to fill the void on the bench, the home team will in all likelihood target the set piece to gain an edge.
The clash, however, should offer a lot more than a brutal forward battle as both teams have backs who offer impressive tactical kicking and attacking skills.
Griquas, in particular, will have to show more innovation on attack to secure a victory, as penalties conceded or mistakes at crucial times have resulted in the side scoring only three tries in their first three matches.
Their defence, however, has been impressive, which means the likes of Raymond Rhule, Robert Ebersohn and Elgar Watts will have to show some magic on attack to cross the tryline.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller; Riaan Smit, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule; Elgar Watts, Sarel Pretorius; Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo (capt); Lood de Jager, Teboho Mohoje; Rossouw de Klerk, Hercu Liebenberg, Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Wian du Preez, Waltie Vermeulen, Davon Raubenheimer, Kevin Luiters, Willie du Plessis, Piet Lindeque.
GWK Griquas: PJ Vermeulen; Nico Scheepers, JP Nel, Howard Mnisi, Rocco Jansen; Francois Brummer, Marnus Hugo; Leon Karemaker, Burger Schoeman, Carel Greeff; Rory Arnold, Hilton Lobberts; Nick Schonert, Ryno Barnes (capt), Steph Roberts. Replacements: Matthew Dobson, Brummer Badenhorst, Patrick O’Brien, Marnus Schoeman, Jacques Coetzee, Du Randt Gerber, Richard Lawson.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Francois de Bruin
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Date: 31 August 2013
The Sharks vs Vodacom Blue Bulls
At the Shark tank the Vodacom Blue Bulls will be desperate to bounce back from their annihilation last week, but the Sharks come off back-to-back wins and will want to build on their steady improvement.
With Blue Bulls flyhalves Tony Jantjies and Louis Fouche injured, 2012 Junior World Championship-winning back Handrè Pollard will make his Absa Currie Cup debut at flyhalf in what will be the biggest test so far in his career.
He will go up against exciting Sharks flyhalf Fred Zeilinga.
In the Sharks camp, meanwhile, former Griquas looseforward Justin Downey makes a welcome return to the Durban-based side on the bench after four seasons in Kimberley.
Similarly to the other encounters, the battle up-front will significant, but both teams also have backs with the potential to could convert the match into a spectacle if it opens up.
The clash will mark a special day in Sharks replacement scrumhalf Charl McLeod’s career as he will earn his 50th Currie Cup cap, which should inspire him to deliver a memorable performance.
The Sharks: SP Marais; Odwa Ndungane, Louis Ludik, Heimar Williams, Lwazi Mvovo; Fred Zeilinga, Cobus Reinach; Jacques Botes (capt), Jean Deysel, Keegan Daniel; Marco Wentzel, Peet Marais; Wiehahn Herbst, Craig Burden, Dale Chadwick. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Rayno Gerber, Edwin Hewitt, Justin Downey, Charl McLeod, Butch James, Jaco van Tonder.
Vodacom Blue Bulls: Jürgen Visser; Sampie Mastriet, Waylon Murray, Ulrich Beyers, Akona Ndungane; Handrè Pollard, Ruan Snyman; Jono Ross (capt), Jacques du Plessis, Wiaan Liebenberg; Grant Hattingh, Paul Willemse; Frik Kirsten, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Morné Mellett. Replacements: Bandise Maku, Werner Kruger, David Bullbring, Jacques Engelbrecht, Rudy Paige, Tiaan Schoeman, Clayton Blommetjies.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Venue: GrowthPoint Kings Park, Durban
Date: 31 August 2013