The pool stages of the Currie Cup Premier Division – sponsored by DirectAxis Financial Services – will reach a dramatic conclusion on Saturday as five teams battle it out for the three remaining semi-final berths, while Tafel Lager Griquas eye the top spot on the log and home ground advantage next weekend.
The log leaders from the Northern Cape host the Xerox Golden Lions in Kimberley in the opening match of the weekend on Saturday, which will be followed by clashes between the Toyota Free State Cheetahs and DHL Western Province in Bloemfontein, and the Vodacom Blue Bulls and Cell C Sharks in Pretoria.
The outcomes of these matches will determine the four semi-finalists as well as the venues where these matches will play out.
In the Currie Cup First Division – also sponsored by DirectAxis Financial Services – the Jaguares XV will look to take a step closer to completing a fairytale debut season on Saturday as the competition reaches the business end and the top four teams battle it out for places in the final.
The Jaguares XV, who have had a faultless season so far, will host the Valke at the Fanie du Toit Sports Grounds in Potchefstroom, while the Down Touch Griffons host the EP Elephants at HT Pelatona Projects Stadium in Welkom. Both matches kick off at 15h00 on Saturday.
The Jaguares XV have been in fine form in what marks their debut season in the competition, winning all seven of their pool matches with bonus points. But this will have no significance when the teams take to the field, as all four sides will enter the semi-finals knowing that it is a case of do-or-die in the competition.
Currie Cup Premier Division – Last throw of the dice for semi-final berths
Tafel Lager Griquas, who booked their first semi-final berth since 1998 last week, boast a two-point buffer at the top of the standings and they will be driven by the prospect of registering another victory to finish the regular season as the top team.
They will, however, face tough competition from the Xerox Golden Lions – who trail by only two log points – and who will enter the match knowing that while a victory could book them a home semi-final, a defeat without a bonus point could place their hopes in jeopardy depending on the other results.
Interestingly, the home side have scored two tries fewer than the Jozi outfit, while they both conceded 148 points in their five matches up to now, which will set the scene for an exciting clash. The Xerox Golden Lions have won seven of the last nine matches between the sides, but their two defeats were in Kimberley, which will be in the back of their minds.
The Xerox Golden Lions made four changes among the forwards for the clash, with Cyle Brink and Marnus Schoeman (both flankers), as well as Springbok lock Marvin Orie (lock) and Jacobie Adriaanse (prop), being drafted into the team. The only change among the backs at inside centre where Duncan Matthews comes in for Manuel Rass.
The Tafel Lager Griquas starting team showed only three changes, with Mox Mxoli (prop), Gideon van der Merwe (flanker) and Chriswill September (scrumhalf) coming in for Khwezi Mona, Zandre Jordaan and Zak Burger respectively.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs and DHL Western Province will be equally desperate for victories when they take to the field at the Toyota Stadium.
The Capetonians, in particular, have their backs against the wall as a defeat will probably mark the end of their season, while the hosts will enter the match with a little more peace of mind knowing that a defeat with a bonus point could still see them finish in the top four. A victory, meanwhile, could nudge them to home semi-final.
The Free Staters boast a better attack and defence going into the match having scored over 50 points more than the opposition and 21 points fewer conceded. They will also draw inspiration from the fact that they emerged victorious the last two matches between the teams in Bloemfontein.
DHL Western Province, however, won the last two outings between the sides in Cape Town, while they will also be fighting for survival, which will fuel their determination.
John Dobson (DHL Western Province coach) named all three of their returning Springboks, newly-capped Scarra Ntubeni (hooker), Wilco Louw (prop) and Dillyn Leyds (fullback) in their starting team, while another Springbok, Damian Willemse (flyhalf) returns, and Junior Springbok centre Rikus Pretorius will make his debut in the midfield.
Replacement hooker Chad Solomon faces a big milestone as he will earn his 50th DHL Western Province cap should he take to the field.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs reshuffled their team with Darren Adonis (winger), Tian Schoeman (flyhalf), Abongile Nonkontwana (flanker), Sintu Manjesi (lock), Boan Venter (prop) and Joseph Dweba (hooker) all earning starts in a side that show six personnel changes and three positional switches.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls and defending champions, the Cell C Sharks, in turn, will enter their match knowing exactly what they have to do to advance to the semi-final – a luxury of playing the last match on Saturday. But this will not have an influence on their mind-set as they will both target a victory at all costs.
A win for the Cell C Sharks should be enough to see them through to the top four, while a bonus-point win for the Vodacom Blue Bulls could still leave them short depending on the other results.
Given how closely matched the teams have been on attack and defence – with both teams having scored 14 tries this season and the KwaZulu-Natalians having conceded only four points less – it could prove to be an epic clash.
The Cell C Sharks have won the last five matches between the sides, but this will mean nothing to the Vodacom Blue Bulls whose only focus will be to finish the season on a high note.
As expected, the Vodacom Blue Bulls beefed up their team with Springboks Lizo Gqoboka (prop) and Marco van Staden (flanker) in what marked the only two changes to the run-on side, with the Cell C Sharks opting to do the same with their returning Springboks, Thomas du Toit (prop) and André Esterhuizen (centre), while another Springbok Coenie Oosthuizen is also back in the front row.
Currie Cup Premier Division fixtures (Saturday, 24 August):
Tafel Lager Griquas v Xerox Golden Lions
Venue: Tafel Lager Park, Kimberley
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse and Aimee Barrett-Theron
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
Tafel Lager Griquas – 15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Michal Haznar, 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Eduan Keyter, 10 George Whitehead (capt), 9 Chriswill September, 8 Neill Jordaan, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Ian Groenewald, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 AJ le Roux, 1 Mox Mxoli. Replacements: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 NJ Oosthuizen, 18 Johan Momsen, 19 Conway Pretorius, 20 Christiaan Meyer, 21 Chris Smit, 22 Bjorn Basson, 23 Ruan Kramer.
Xerox Golden Lions – 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Duncan Matthews, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (capt), 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sti Sithole. Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Len Massyn, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jan-Louis la Grange, 23 Jamba Ulengo.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs v DHL Western Province
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Ruhan Meiring and Mpho Matsaung
TMO: JJ Wagner
Toyota Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Darren Adonis, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Tian Meyer (capt), 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjesi, 3 Boan Venter, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Aranos Coetzee, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Dries Swanepoel /Dian Badenhorst, 22 Louis Fouche.
DHL Western Province – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 SP Marais, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 JD Schickerling, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie. Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Nama Xaba, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Vodacom Blue Bulls v Cell C Sharks
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Referees: Paul Mente and Phumzile Mbewu
TMO: Johan Greeff
Vodacom Blue Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl (capt), 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Wian Vosloo, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: 16 Corne Els, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Vaughen Isaacs, 23 Stedman Gans.
Cell C Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jeremy Ward (co-capt), 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Boeta Chamberlain, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Tera Mtembu (co-capt), 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Thomas du Toit. Replacements: 16 Dylan Richardson, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Rhyno Smith, 23 JP Pietersen.
Currie Cup First Division: Who can halt the Jaguares XV’s fairytale season?
With the Jaguares XV boasting admirable attacking statistics of over 10 tries per match in the pool stages, the Valke will be wary of the fact that nothing but their best efforts will do to counter the Jaguares XV, who have conceded fewer than half the number of points so far, and scored close to triple the number of tries.
The Valke will enter the match fresh off back-to-back defeats – one of which was a 122-19 drubbing against the Jaguares XV in Brakpan, but neither team will read much into that result after the East Randers fielded a largely inexperienced team for the match to cover for their star players, who participated in a tournament in Australia. Despite this, these results are expected to fuel the Valke’s determination to create an upset.
The Down Touch Griffons, meanwhile, be wary of the EP Elephant, who finished the pool stages only four points adrift on the table with four victories in their seven outings. Given the small margins on attack and defence between the sides throughout the season, with the men from Welkom scoring only eight more tries and conceding 22 more points, it could prove to be a nail-biting clash.
Both sides will enter the match with confidence as the EP Elephants come off three successive victories, while the home side suffered their only defeat in the first round.
The Down Touch Griffons emerged victorious in their pool match, but it was a by a mere four points due to their superior kicking, as both teams scored three tries in the match.
Should the Jaguares XV win their semi-final, they will book a home final as the top team on the log at the conclusion of the pool stages.
Should they choose to play, the Down Touch Griffons, as the best-placed South African team on the table, will feature in the Currie Cup Promotion-Relegation match against the last-placed Premier Division side.
Currie Cup First Division semi-finals
Saturday, 24 August:
Jaguares XV v Valke
Venue: Fanie du Toit Sports Grounds, Potchefstroom
Referee: Egon Seconds
Down Touch Griffons v EP Elephants
Venue: HT Pelatona Projects Stadium, Welkom
Referee: Quinton Immelman