The Eastern Province Kings will travel to Bloemfontein for Friday's night's crucial Absa Currie Cup promotion-relegation first-leg match against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs knowing that an unbeaten season thus far, which includes winning the First Division title, will count for nothing should they be unable to win a place in the Premier Division for 2013.
The two-legged series kicks off at the Free State Stadium before the Cheetahs head off to Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth for the return leg next Friday night.
The Kings' participation in the promotion-relegation series was already assured before their 26-25 victory over the Ford Pumas in last week's First Division final, thanks to Alan Solomons' men having topped the log at the conclusion of the round-robin matches.
The Cheetahs find themselves playing for their Premier Division lives after finishing bottom of the six-team log with just three wins from their 10 matches.
After completion of the promotion-relegation series, the team with the most log points accumulated during these two matches will play in the Premier Division next year.
In the event of an equal number of log points, the winner will be determined as follows:
a) the best nett points difference, i.e. points for minus points against, and if equal;
b) the team who scored the most tries, and if equal;
c) the status quo will remain.
Injuries have meanwhile forced both sides to change key personnel for Friday's match, with EP Kings lock and skipper Darron Nell, veteran centre Tiger Mangweni and prop Schalk Ferreira all ruled out. Centre Wayne Stevens takes over the captaincy.
Ross Geldenhuys will start at tighthead for the Cheetahs in the absence of Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen, who is out for the rest of the year with a back injury.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Hendro Scholtz, 5 Izak van der Merwe, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt.), 1 Marcel van der Merwe. Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Tewis du Bruyn, 21 Phillip Snyman, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Eastern Province Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Paul Perez, 13 Wayne Stevens (capt.), 12 Shane Gates, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Wesley Dunlop, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Devin Oosthuizen, 5 David Bullbring, 4 Rynier Bernado, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Hannes Franklin, 1 Jaco Engels. Replacements: 16 Frank Herne, 17 Andre Schlechter, 18 Wayne van Heerden, 19 Mpho Mbiyozo, 20 Scott Mathie, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Michael Killian.
Leopards flyhalf André Pretorius finished the season as the leading First Division point-scorer, with 166 points made up of 47 conversions, 21 penalties and 3 drop goals. Finishing behind Pretorius in second place was 162 is Ford Pumas flyhalf JC Roos, with EP Kings flyhalf George Whitehead finishing third with 142.
Leopards wing Allister Kettledas finished the competition on top of the try-scoring table with 14 touchdowns. Behind him in second place was EP Kings eighthman Luke Watson with 13, with Ford Pumas centre JW Jonker third on 11.
This weekend's fixture – First Leg of Promotion-Relegation series:
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs Eastern Province Kings
Date: Friday, 19 October
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistants: Lesego Legoete, Rasta Rasivhenge
Television Match Official: Gerrie Coetzee