Fight for survival, semifinal spots intensify

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The fight for survival and semifinal places in the Absa Currie Cup is set to intensify this weekend as the teams take to the field in the third-last round of pool matches.

Only 10 points currently separates the top five teams on the log table, while the Vodacom Blue Bulls and GWK Griquas still have mathematical chances of sneaking into the semifinals if they win all their remaining matches and topple a few top teams.

In Friday’s matches the Steval Pumas host DHL Western Province in Nelspruit and the Toyota Free State Cheetahs meet the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein. On Saturday the Cell C Sharks take on the EP Kings in Durban and GWK Griquas go up against the Xerox Golden Lions in Kimberley.

Victories for the DHL Western Province and Xerox Golden Lions, in particular, would improve their chances of securing home semifinals, while wins for the Vodacom Blue Bulls and GWK Griquas will be vital to keep alive their faint semifinal hopes.

The clash in Nelspruit should be exciting as the Steval Pumas will be determined to extend their winning run at home and to remain in the top four on the log standings. This determination will be fuelled by the fact that they come off back-to-back defeats, meaning they will be under pressure to rediscover their winning ways. They will, however, have to deliver a top-class performance to achieve this as DHL Western Province have been in fine form this season and will have their sights set on maintaining their lead on the log table to remain in pole position for a home semifinal and possibly a home final. History favours the Cape side as the Steval Pumas have won only one of the 17 matches between the teams dating back to 1997.

In Bloemfontein the Toyota Free State Cheetahs will look to build on their bonus-point victory against the EP Kings with the hope of forcing their way into the top four. But they will be wary of the fact that the Vodacom Blue Bulls will be fighting for survival in the competition. These factors will set the scene for a nail-biting clash. With home ground advantage and a recent spike in the Toyota Free State Cheetahs form’ counting in their favour they will enter the clash with confidence. They will also draw comfort from their superior attack this season, which has earned them eight tries more than the Pretoria side in the last seven matches. The teams, however, are matched on 20 tries conceded so far in the competition, which could result in a tightly-contested battle. Interestingly Free State have won four of the last five matches between the teams in Bloemfontein.

The Cell C Sharks will be determined to build on their victory against the Vodacom Blue Bulls when they meet the EP Kings in Durban, but they will be careful to write off the Port Elizabeth team who have delivered competitive performances in their last two matches. Interestingly the EP Kings, who have yet to win a match in the competition, have scored one more try than their Durban counterparts this season, although their defence has let them down. This attacking performance will certainly give the visitors some confidence going into the clash. The hosts, however, will be mindful of the fact that the Port Elizabeth team have only beaten them once since the 1996 season when they registered a 22-16 victory in Port Elizabeth in 1999.

GWK Griquas will face a tough task in Kimberley trying to contain the Xerox Golden Lions who come off back-to-back bonus-point victories. The hosts, however, have claimed big scalps this season and will look to repeat this feat in the hope of keeping alive their faint semifinal hopes. The home team’s defence, in particular, will have to be solid to achieve this as the Xerox Golden Lions have scored an impressive 30 tries in their seven matches up to now, while their pack will also have their work cut out as the Johannesburg team’s forwards have laid a good foundation up front. Form aside, the visitors will take comfort from the fact that they have won five of the last seven matches between the teams, with two of these wins being in Kimberley.

Team news

DHL Western Province coach Allister Coetzee has pinned his hopes of a victory on the players who guided the team to a bonus-point win last week, with the only change in the starting XV being the inclusion of prop Pat Cilliers in place of Brok Harris. Harris will join Scrumhalf Nic Groom and utility back Michael van der Spuy on the bench. Steval Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse made six changes to his team which includes former Springbok Sevens player Ruwellyn Isbell starting on the wing, while fullback JW Bell will start at fullback and JC Roos at flyhalf.

In Bloemfontein Toyota Free State Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan made three changes to his run-on team with Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen, No8 Jean Cook and wing Rayno Benjamin recovering from injuries to take up their places. His Vodacom Blue Bulls counterpart Frans Ludeke made six changes to his team, which includes the return of four Springboks. Captain and flank Deon Stegmann has served his suspension, while wing Akona Ndungane will start on the wing, centre JJ Engelbrecht at centre and scrumhalf Piet van Zyl takes over from Rudy Paige.

GWK Griquas coach Hawies Fourie made several changes to his team, many of which were injury enforced as flyhalf Francois Brummer, prop Steph Roberts and No8 Burger Schoeman have all been ruled out. Among the changes Dean Grant will start at flyhalf, Carel Greeff at the back of the scrum and prop Janro van Niekerk takes over in the front row. Xerox Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann also made a few changes to his team which will see centre Howard Mnisi earn his first start for the Johannesburg side against his former team, with the other change among the backs being the inclusion of scrumhalf Ross Cronje in place of Ricky Schroeder. Up-front prop Jacques van Rooyen and flank Warwick Tecklenburg will start at the expense of Schalk van der Merwe and Kwagga Smith respectively. The main change on the bench is the return of star flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff from injury.

In Durban Cell C Sharks coach Brad MacLeod-Henderson made only one enforced change to his starting team with flank Khaya Majola earning his first start in place of the injured Jacques Botes in the loose trio. EP Kings coach Carlos Spencer made injury-enforced changes to his pack as lock and captain Steven Sykes and props Lizo Gqoboka and Tom Botha were ruled out due to injury. This resulted in props Charles Marais and CJ van der Linde earning starts, while lock Steven Cummins will start alongside stand-in captain Darron Nell in the engine room. The other changes were the inclusion of scrumhalf Tobie Botes and centre Tim Whitehead.

Absa Currie Cup Premier Division fixtures:

Steval Pumas vs DHL Western Province

Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Date: Friday, 26 September
Time: 19h00
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Christie du Preez and Stefan Breytenbach

Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs Vodacom Blue Bulls

Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Date: Friday, 26 September
Time: 19h10
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Lourens van der Merwe and Francois Pretorius
TMO: Willie Vos

Cell C Sharks vs EP Kings

Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban
Date: Saturday, 27 September
Time: 14h00
Referee: Ben Crouse
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry and Eduan Nel
TMO: Johan Greeff

GWK Griquas vs Xerox Golden Lions

Venue: GWK Park, Kimberley
Date: Saturday, 27 September
Time: 15h00
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Oregopotse Rametsi and Jan Venter

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