The Absa Currie Cup Premier Division will reach boiling point on Saturday as the top four teams go head-to-head for lucrative final berths in epic clashes.
GWK Griquas and the Steval Pumas will also take to the field in Kimberley on Friday at 19h10 in the first of two Absa Currie Cup promotion-relegation games to determine which of the teams will feature in the Premier Division next season.
Defending champions, DHL Western Province, will meet the MTN Golden Lions at DHL Newlands in the first semifinal on Saturday at 14h30, while The Sharks meet the Toyota Free State Cheetahs at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban at 17h00 in the semifinals.
Should Western Province and the Sharks advance to the final, it will mark their third back-to-back final in SA’s premier domestic competition. A victory for the Sharks this weekend, meanwhile, would earn them their fourth back-to-back final appearance in the competition.
DHL Western Province vs MTN Golden Lions
With home ground advantage and winning momentum counting in DHL Western Province’s favour, they will enter their semifinal against the MTN Golden Lions as favourites.
Such has been the consistency of the Cape side’s performances this season they finished the round-robin stages unbeaten.
But while they share the best defensive record with the Sharks during the round-robin stages, they were second-last on the list of tries scored. In stark contrast the Lions were the top try-scorers with an average of four tries per match, but they conceded 10 more tries than Western Province, meaning their defence will be one of their main focus areas on Saturday.
The Lions will also have to improve their discipline significantly to keep alive hopes of an upset, after conceding several penalties last week, which allowed Griquas to keep the scoreboard ticking.
A similar disciplinary effort this week could come at a high price, especially with accurate Western Province goal-kicker Demetri Catrakilis on form with the boot.
The teams have been closely matched in the Absa Currie Cup over the last few seasons, with Western Province winning four of their last 10 match-ups, and the Lions five.
The other match ended in a 31-31 draw earlier this season. Three of the Cape side’s victories, however, were at home, which should give them confidence.
DHL Western Province coach Allister Coetzee pinned his hopes of a victory on the players that held on for a 17-13 victory against the Sharks last week to guide the team to a possible home final, with the only change to the starting team being at outside centre where Springbok captain Jean de Villiers will start.
He will partner Damian de Allende in a hard-running midfield combination, while his national team-mate Juan de Jongh has been named on the bench after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann, meanwhile, made a handful of changes to his team with props CJ van der Linde and Ruan Dreyer earning starts.
Star flyhalf Elton Jantjies has recovered from injury and will start at No10 in a halfback pairing with Ross Cronje, meaning Marnitz Boshoff will start at fullback.
DHL Western Province: Gio Aplon; Gerhard van den Heever, Jean de Villiers, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Demetri Catrakilis, Louis Schreuder; Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Deon Fourie; De Kock Steenkamp, Eben Etzebeth; Pat Cilliers, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Frans Malherbe, Brok Harris, Michael Rhodes, Schalk Burger, Nic Groom, Kurt Coleman, Juan de Jongh.
MTN Golden Lions: Marnitz Boshoff; Chrysander Botha, Lionel Mapoe, Andries Coetzee, Anthony Volmink; Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje; Warren Whiteley, Derick Minnie (capt), Jaco Kriel; Franco van der Merwe, Chris van Zyl; Ruan Dreyer, Willie Wepener, CJ van der Linde. Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen, Julian Redelinghuys, Willie Britz, Warwick Tecklenburg, Tian Meyer, Robert de Bruyn.
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant Referees: Jason Jaftha, Marc van Zyl
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
The Sharks vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs
In Durban the Sharks will enter their clash against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs with confidence despite coming off a defeat against Western Province last week.
Home ground advantage and an impressive run in the pool stages aside, the team boasts a fantastic track-record against the Cheetahs in the competition.
In the last nine outings between the teams in the Absa Currie Cup, the Sharks have won eight matches, with their last victory being an encouraging 50-26 win last month.
But the Durban side will pay little attention to this when the team’s line up on Saturday, especially since the visitors have also been bolstered by the presence of Springbok front-rowers, Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen, while a handful of their backs have begun to stamp their authority, including flyhalf Elgar Watts and wing Raymond Rhule.
The set-piece battle, in particular, is expected to be decisive with Springboks Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira of the Sharks and the Cheetahs’ Oosthuizen, Strauss and Trevor Nyakane being pitted against one another.
The Sharks also welcomed back Springbok centre Francois Steyn in the starting team after an injury-layoff, which will bulk up their backline and also offer the bonus of long-range goal kicks and drop goals.
In total the Sharks have named 10 Springboks in their starting XV - experience which will be invaluable given the high stakes.
Unfortunately for the team, however, Springbok tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis has been ruled out after picking up a hand injury during training.
In the Cheetahs camp, coach Naka Drotske made only one change to the team that defeated the Blue Bulls, with star goal kicker Riaan Smit returning from injury to reclaim his place on the right wing, which forced Ryno Benjamin to the bench.
Springbok flyhalf Johan Goosen will again start on the bench, with Elgar Watts named at No10.
The Sharks: SP Marais; Odwa Ndungane, Louis Ludik, Francois Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo; Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod; Keegan Daniel (capt), Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee; Pieter-Steph du Toit, Peet Marais; Wiehahn Herbst, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Danie Mienie, Stephan Lewies, Jacques Botes, Cobus Reinach, Fred Zeilinga, Heimar Williams.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller; Riaan Smit, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule; Elgar Watts, Sarel Pretorius; Philip van der Walt, Pieter Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo; Lood de Jager, Francois Uys; Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss (capt), Coenie Oosthuizen. Replacements: Hercu Liebenberg, Rossouw de Klerk, Teboho Mohoje, Freddy Ngoza, Piet van Zyl, Johan Goosen, Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rashivhenge, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Deon van Blommestein
GWK Griquas vs Steval Pumas
The promotion-relegation clash between GWK Griquas and the Steval Pumas should be thrilling as the teams battle it out to get on the front foot a place in the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division next season.
While Griquas will be disappointed with their performance this season with only one victory in 10 matches, the Pumas will enter the clash on a high after advancing to the First Division final stages unbeaten and keeping that record intact to win the competition last week.
Their confidence aside, the team’s attack has been impressive with 76 tries in their 14 pool matches alone, while they have supported this with a solid defensive effort.
These skills will be handy against Griquas whose defence has been their Achilles heel this season.
The Kimberley side have also battled to make their presence felt on attack.
However, they have played at a higher level in the Premier Division and will take comfort from the fact that they have put up a brave fight against the top five provincial teams in the country, as they accumulated six bonus points for losing within seven points.
Griquas have welcomed back Springbok wing Willie le Roux, who is expected to be one of their main attacking weapons, while coach Pote Human has recalled all his star players who were rested last week.
This includes centre Howard Mnisi, hooker Ryno Barnes, flyhalf Francois Brummer and flank Marnus Schoeman.
Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse, meanwhile, made only one change to his team that were crowned the Absa Currie Cup First Division champions last week, with tighthead prop Ivann Espag replacing De-Jay Terblanche, who in turn drops to the bench.
The visitors are expected to rely heavily on flyhalf Carl Bezuidenhout to dictate play and keep the scoreboard rolling with his pin-point goal kicking, while exciting backs Rosco Speckman, Coenie van Wyk and JW Bell could be some of their key attacking weapons.
GWK Griquas: Gouws Prinsloo; Willie le Roux, Jean Stemmet, Howard Mnisi, Rocco Jansen; Francois Brummer, Marnus Hugo; Burger Schoeman, RJ Liebenberg, Marnus Schoeman, Jaco Nepgen, Ligtoring Landman, Lourens Adriaanse, Ryno Barnes (capt), Steph Roberts. Replacements: Matthew Dobson, Janro van Niekerk, Patrick O’Brien, Carel Greeff, Jacques Coetzee, JP Nel, Nico Scheepers.
Steval Pumas: Coenie van Wyk; JW Bell, Wilmaure Louw, Stefan Watermeyer, Rosco Speckman; Carl Bezuidenhout, Faf de Klerk; RW Kember, Renaldo Bothma, Corné Steenkamp (capt); Eduan van der Walt, Rudi Mathee; Ivann Espag, Frank Herne, Corné Fourie. Replacements: Swys du Toit, Vincent Koch, De-Jay Terblanche, Giant Mtyanda, Uzair Cassiem, JC Roos, Dewald Pretorius.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant Referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Francois de Bruin
TMO: Johan Greeff