The two most successful Currie Cup sides in the last decade, the Blue Bulls and the Free State Cheetahs, square off in Pretoria on Saturday in the headline act of an intriguing round of fixtures.
These two sides have won or shared the Currie Cup no less than seven times in the last ten years. The Blue Bulls were champions in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2009, while the Cheetahs won the trophy in 2005 and 2007. They shared the spoils in 2006.
The only other teams to have won the competition since 2001 – Western Province (2001) and The Sharks (2008 and 2010) – travel to Potchefstroom and Nelspruit on Friday for their matches against the Leopards and the Pumas respectively, while the fourth match this weekend is on Saturday afternoon in Kimberley, where Griquas host the Golden Lions.
The Sharks will expect a fired up Pumas side when they travel to Mpumalanga, having been on the losing side up there before and they will be even more wary after watching them run the Lions close in Johannesburg last week.
Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said: "We were impressed by the Pumas at the weekend, because that Lions team hasn't lost many of the players they had in their Super Rugby campaign. For much of the game the result could have gone either way and it took an intercept try for the Lions to get home.
"The Pumas have a big pack and some exciting backs, so it's going to be a tough match. We certainly don't want to put ourselves under pressure early on in the season and especially with some difficult matches to come. After a big effort against the Bulls, we don't want to now slip up this weekend," he added.
After losing their first game of the season in Bloemfontein last weekend, the Leopards will be looking to turn things around when they host last year's runners up, Western Province, in Potchefstroom on Friday evening.
The Cape team will be determined to improve on last week's performance in which they could only manage a draw with the Griquas at Newlands.
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee commented: "There is no such thing as easy games in the Currie Cup. We will have to be at our best to beat the Leopards – they have some very good players, good structures and a good coaching team.
"We also have to fix the mistakes we made against Griquas last weekend. We've laid the foundation with a young team and know which areas we have to work on," he said.
After having to fight hard to beat the Pumas in Johannesburg last weekend, the Golden Lions have a tough encounter in Kimberley on Saturday afternoon.
Griquas are notoriously tough opponents on their home track and after their draw at Newlands last weekend, they will be looking ahead to another good performance against a more fancied team.
A man who knows all about the heat in the tight five, is Johan Ackermann, Golden Lions assistant coach and a former Springbok lock.
"Griquas have traditionally been known for their superb pack of forwards and this year is no different. They boast a number of players with Super Rugby experience and will test us upfront," he said.
Their heavy defeat in Durban last week would have given the Blue Bulls enough motivation to set the record straight against the Free State Cheetahs in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon.
Last season, the Free Staters beat the team from Pretoria twice and one has to go back to the Currie Cup final of 2009 for the Blue Bulls last victory over the Cheetahs.
New Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar knows that his team will have to step up if they are to win the first home game of their campaign.
He said: "It was a poor start and we all know that. The Free State will require a great effort and we will have no choice but to respond. No one can afford losing at home in this competition.
"Our set phase play will improve as we spend more time together and I think it will be better by this weekend. It is our first home game and it is important to us as a side to we do well this coming weekend," added Pienaar.
All the weekend's fixtures, predictions, and teams:
Friday, July 22
Pumas v Sharks
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
Prediction: The Pumas will fight hard in front of their home crowd in Nelspruit, but they have suffered key injuries at flyhalf and in the tight five and will struggle to keep the pace with a Sharks team that looked formidable against the Bulls last week. The Sharks will win this one by 15 points.
Pumas: 15: MJ Mentz, 14 Deon Scholtz, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Pieter Engelbrecht, 11 Ashwin Scott, 10 Tiaan Marx, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Christo le Roux, 7 Jaco Bouwer, 6 Corne Steenkamp (captain), 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Willem Serfontein, 3 Ashley Buys, 2 Marthinus van der Westhuizen, 1 De-Jay Terblanche.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Brett Nel, 18 Eduan van der Walt, 19 RW Kember, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Coenie van Wyk, 22 Carl Bezuidenhout.
Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Mark Richards, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Julian Redelinghuys / Eugene van Staden, 18 Jan Andre Marais, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Jacobus Reinach, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Sibusiso Sithole.
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Assistant referees: Joey Salmans, Johan Greeff
Leopards v Western Province
(Olën Park, Potchefstroom - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
Prediction: The Leopards failed to win a single game in the Currie Cup last season and although they did well to hold the Cheetahs at bay in the second half last week they will battle to rein Western Province in on Friday night. The Cape team have a youthful blend but they are still a talented bunch who will have to much for the Leopards and will win by 20 points.
Leopards: 15 George Tossel, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Joubert Engelbreght, 12 Charl Weideman, 11 Vainon Willis, 10 Clayton Durand, 9 Wesly Moolman, 8 Morne Hanekom, 7 MB Lusaseni, 6 Philip de Wet, 5 Ruan van Heerden, 4 Brendon Snyman, 3 Stefan Bezuidenhoud, 2 Gavin Williamson, 1 BG Uys.
Replacements: 16 Stoffel Duvenhage, 17 Berend Botha, 18 Thabo Mamojela, 19 Christo van Niekerk, 20 Theo van Wyk, 21 Walter Venter, 22 Hoffman Maritz.
Western Province: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 JJ Engelbrecht, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Köster, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Rohan Kitshoff, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie (captain), 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Adriaan Fondse, 19 Nicholas Fenton-Wells, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Isma-eel Dollie, 22 Marcel Brache.
Referee: Lesego Legoete
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Johann Meuwesen
Saturday, July 23
Griquas v Lions
(GWK Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
Prediction: The Griquas heralded their by now familiar strong start to the Currie Cup with a fighting draw at Newlands last week, while the Lions were underwhelming by comparison in their narrow victory over the Pumas. The Lions have a strong team with plenty of Super Rugby experience and win this one on paper but we are backing the Griquas to sneak a win at home by less than five points.
Griquas: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Richard Lawson, 13 Wilmaure Louw, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Fabian Juries, 10 Monty Dumont, 9 Shannon Rick, 8 Jonathan Mokuena (captain), 7 Davon Raubenheimer, 6 Justin Downey, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Steph Robberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Jean Botha, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Jaco Nepgen, 20 Matthew Rosslee, 21 Logan Basson, 22 Rudi Vogt.
Lions: 15 Michael Killian, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Doppies la Grange (captain), 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Joshua Strauss, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Patric Cilliers.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Johan Snyman, 19 Dries van Schalkwyk, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Hein Cronje, 22 Alwyn Hollenbach.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Blue Bulls v Griquas
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
Prediction: Judging by their performance in Durban last week the Blue Bulls have a lot of work to do if they are going to be title contenders this year. The Cheetahs will be keen to capitalise on their hosts indifferent start to the competition by landing a sucker punch at Loftus Versfeld this weekend. The Bulls will tighten things up in front of their home crowd but the Cheetahs will take this one by about five points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Akona Ndungane, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Dustin Jinka, 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Derick Kuün, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Fudge Mabeta, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Gary Botha (captain), 1 Corné Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Okkie Kruger, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Francois Venter.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Corné Uys, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Pieter Labuschagné, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 PW van Vuuren, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Pieter Myburgh, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Philip Snyman, 22 Philip Burger.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Christie du Preez
TMO: JC Fortuin
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