The Golden Lions and Western Province will do battle in a match that could go a long way in deciding who finishes top of the Currie Cup log, writes DYLAN JACK.
BLUE BULLS vs PUMAS (Friday, 7pm)
In the opening match of the fifth round, the Blue Bulls will look for their second successive win against a feisty Pumas side in Pretoria.
The hosts have yet to hit top form this season, as their defence has let them down at key moments of each of their games – again demonstrated when they conceded six tries in their narrow 45-40 win against Griquas last weekend.
However, they will be boosted by the news that captain and No 8 Hanro Liebenberg has fully recovered from the illness that caused his 11th-hour withdrawal from the Griquas match. Bok scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl has also possibly got his chance to nail down a place as the Bulls’ first-choice No 9 as he rotates with teammate André Warner, who drops to the bench.
The Pumas, meanwhile, will be looking for just their second win of the season. The men from Mpumalanga have shown that they can definitely go toe-to-toe with some of the bigger unions, but coach Jimmy Stonehouse will probably be wanting his team to finally show they can go all the way as they have shown a worrying tendency to drop off in the second half of their matches.
Stonehouse has definitely not been conservative in his team selection, giving speedsters Devon Williams and Morné Joubert their first starts of the season, with an attacking centre partnership in Ryan Nell and Niel Maritz also set to cause the Bulls problems. Captain Hennie Skorbinski, who picked up an injury in the loss against the Sharks, will be absent, with lock Hugo Kloppers leading the team out at Loftus.
Blue Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Jonny Kotze, 12 Franco Naude, 11 Duncan Matthews, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Nic de Jager, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Hendré Stassen, 3 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Matthys Basson.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Conrad van Vuuren, 18 Ruan Nortje, 19 Jano Venter, 20 André Warner, 21 Tinus de Beer, 22 Dylan Sage.
Pumas – 15 Devon Williams, 14 Morné Joubert, 13 Neil Maritz, 12 Ryan Nell, 11 Ruwellyn Isbel, 10 Christopher Smith, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Hugo Kloppers (c), 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Andrew Beerwinkel, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Subs: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Hilton Lobberts, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Abrie Griesel, 21 Kobus Marais, 22 Henko Marais.
GOLDEN LIONS vs WESTERN PROVINCE (Saturday, 3pm)
In the match of the weekend, and possibly the season so far, the Golden Lions will try to entrench their position at the top of the table against one of their closest rivals in Western Province.
Both sides have looked fairly comfortable in the way they have dealt with the competition so far, leading to them, along with the Sharks, being the only remaining unbeaten teams.
The Lions are coming into the match on the back of a rather routine 47-14 win against Free State and have made minimal changes as they seek continuity in their set-up. Fullback Andries Coetzee enjoyed a rare week off last week and returns to the starting lineup, causing Sylvian Mahuza to shift to wing, while hooker Corné Fourie, on the bench against Free State, also starts.
A rather unnoted factor has been the inclusion of former Province and Stormers scrumhalf Nic Groom on the Lions’ bench. Groom moved to Johannesburg via a stint with Northampton Saints and his knowledge of Province’s inner workings could prove decisive should he make it on to the field.
Groom’s former employers have welcomed regular captain Chris van Zyl back into the fold after he made his return from injury off the bench against the Pumas. The departure of Springboks Damian de Allende, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Wilco Louw have necessitated further changes with Dan Kriel, Ernst van Rhyn and Michael Kumbirai all coming into the starting XV.
Province, who are coming off their second bye, lost this fixture last season, before going on to win their semi-final against the Lions. A win in Johannesburg, therefore, could be the boost Province need to go on and defend their title.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Len Massyn, 6 James Venter, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Corné Fourie, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Johannes Jonker, 18 Reinhard Nortnagel, 19 Driaan Bester, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gianni Lombard, 22 Wandisile Simelane.
Western Province – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 SP Marais, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (c), 3 Michael Kumbirai, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Dan du Plessis.
GRIQUAS vs FREE STATE (Saturday, 5pm)
This tussle could be as decisive as the one that comes before it, if only to decide which side finishes as the competition’s wooden spoonists.
While neither of these teams have been lacking for heart or effort, the fact remains that they have yet to scratch a win on the log.
Griquas came within a try of pulling off an upset against the Bulls and coach Peter Engledow seems content with what he saw in that match as he has only tinkered with his pack, bringing in an all-new front row, while Jonathan Janse van Rensburg also starts at No 8.
The visitors, meanwhile, will miss the services of Louis Fouche, with rookie Ernst Stapelberg replacing the experienced journeyman in the starting XV.
As with the previous match, home advantage could prove decisive as Griquas have always had a knack for going the extra mile in front of their supporters.
Griquas – 15 AJ Coertzen, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Kyle Steyn (c), 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Enver Brandt, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Christiaan Meyer, 8 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Eital Bredenkamp, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 4 Wandile Putuma, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 Wilmar Arnoldi, 1 Liam Hendricks.
Subs: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 18 FP Pelser, 19 Wendal Wehr, 20 Zak Burger, 21 Stephan Janse van Rensburg, 22 Christopher Bosch.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Adriaan Carelse, 14 Ali Mgijima, 13 Carel-Jan Coetzee, 12 Tersius Kruger, 11 Vuyani Maqina, 10 Ernst Stapelberg, 9 Rudy Paige (c), 8 Stephan Malan, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Dennis Visser, 4 Louis Conradie, 3 Gunther Janse van Vuuren, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Johan Kotze.
Subs: 16 Kevin Stevens, 17 Jannes Snyman, 18 Stefan van Schalkwyk, 19 Nardus Erasmus, 20 Luigy van Jaarsveld, 21 Dian Badenhorst, 22 Ryno Eksteen.
Photo: Gallo Images