The Currie Cup shifts into gear this weekend as the two most successful sides in the history of the competition contest the traditional north-south derby at Newlands on Saturday.
The match-up between Western Province and the Blue Bulls is not the only mouth-watering clash to look forward to. The Sharks host the Cheetahs in what should be a hard-hitting affair in Durban while the Pumas play the Griquas in Nelspruit and the Lions take on the Leopards in Johannesburg.
After two near losses, the Pumas will be looking to record their first victory of the Currie Cup season against Griquas in Nelspruit on Friday evening.
The Men from Mpumalanga lost out narrowly to the Lions and the Sharks in their first two games and they will be keen to make home advantage count against the Griquas at the Mbombela Stadium this weekend.
"It's time we start accumulating log points, but this is also a very dangerous game, because Griquas lost heavily last week and will be looking to set the record straight," said Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse.
Stonehouse knows that his charges will have to be on top of their game against a Griquas side that beat them twice in the Currie Cup last year.
"I'm confident in the way we've been playing, even though we've lost, because we're not making the kind of mistakes we've made before and are competing better. It won't be easy on Friday though, because Griquas are a top side and will test us, like they did last year," added Stonehouse.
The Sharks will be out to continue their unbeaten start to the season when they host the Cheetahs, who always raise their game in Durban, at Kings Park on Saturday.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske was not happy with his side's performance in the second half of their loss to the Blue Bulls last week, and he knows that his team are in for another serious test against the defending champions this weekend.
He said: "The Sharks are the form team at the moment and we know it will be very tough down in Durban, but we placed ourselves under some pressure for throwing away the game in Pretoria last weekend.
"We have done well against them before, but last year they beat us twice, so I don’t think we can be regarded as the Sharks' bogey team any more. They were very impressive against the Bulls and we'll have to play well on Saturday.
"The most important area for us would be ball retention. The stats show The Sharks score 70 to 80 percent of their tries from bad kicks by their opponents, so we need to ensure we keep the ball and build momentum, which is when we're at our most dangerous," added the Cheetahs boss.
Facing the unbeaten and log-leading Golden Lions who are on the crest of the wave after two Currie Cup victories will not be the easiest task for the struggling Leopards team.
Thus far this season the Golden Lions have not only scored the most points (80), but also the most tries (11). The Leopards are on the other end of the table and have conceded the most points (87) and tries (11).
"This will be a very tough game, because the Golden Lions showed against Griquas last weekend what they can do with the heaps of Super Rugby experience they have in the squad," said Leopards coach Leon Boshoff.
"We'll concentrate on what we'd like to do in the game and believe we can win there. I also don't think the Lions will underestimate us, because they almost slipped against the Pumas in the first round," he added.
Between them Western Province and the Blue Bulls account for 54 out of the total 70 Currie Cup titles in the competition's history, and with both the teams coming off morale-boosting victories last week this one should be as fiercely fought as ever.
Both sides have been hit with Springbok call-ups to an extent that most of their experienced players are not available, but that, according to Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar, is not an issue.
He commented: "The players that are there are still quality players and have done well in the past. WP had a tough game in Potchefstroom and they did well. Against Griquas they came back after a bad start. They are a quality side with a good mix of experience and some youngsters. So its going to be a tough one.
"They showed against the Leopards they want a high-paced game. But they can play a territorial game as well and have some good defences. So its up to us handle whatever they give and to apply our own pressure this week," he said.
All the weekend's fixtures, predictions and teams:
Friday, July 29
Pumas v Griquas
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
Prediction: Both of these teams will be desperate to register their first wins of the season and will come out all guns blazing on Friday night. The Pumas have been especially unlucky thus far this season and they will want to give their home crowd something to really cheer about so we are backing the home team to take this one by more than seven points.
Pumas: 15 MJ Mentz, 14 Deon Scholtz, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Tiaan Marx, 11 Shandré Frolick, 10 Coenie van Wyk, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Christo le Roux, 7 Jaco Bouwer, 6 Corné Steenkamp (captain), 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Willem Serfontein, 3 Ashley Buys, 2 Marthinus van der Westhuizen, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Eduan van der Walt, 19 Reginald Kember, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Johan Jackson, 22 Carl Bezuidenhout.
Griquas: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Richard Lawson, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Dusty Noble, 10 Earl Rose, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Jonathan Mokuena (captain), 7 Davon Raubenheimer, 6 Justin Downey, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Jean Botha, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Burger Schoeman, 20 Warren Malgas, 21 Matthew Rosslee, 22 Rudi Vogt.
Referee: Marius Jonker
Saturday, July 30
Sharks v Free State Cheetahs
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
Prediction: The Cheetahs have become known as the Sharks' bogey team in recent years and with good reason. However, the defending champions are always difficult to beat at home and their two wins to start the season have gained them some significant momentum. The Cheetahs will run them close but the Sharks will clinch this one by less than five points.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Mark Richards, 13 Stefan Terblanche/Marius Joubert, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Frederic Michalak/Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 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 Eugene van Staden, 18 Jan Andre Marais, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Jacobus Reinach, 21 Heimar Williams/Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Gouws Prinsloo/Sibusiso Sithole.
Free State 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 Labuschagne, 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: Jason Jaftha
Golden Lions v Leopards
(Coca-Cola Park - Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
Prediction: The team on top of the table takes on the team at the bottom in this one, and it is difficult to see past a Golden Lions win for this one. The Johannesburg-based side have almost all of their Super rugby players at their disposal and the Leopards, whose Currie Cup losing streak goes back a few years, will battle to be competitive. The Golden Lions will cruise to victory by more than 30 points.
Lions: 15 Michael Killian, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Dylan des Fountain, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 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 Michael Rhodes, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Hein Cronje, 22 Jannie Boshoff/Andries Coetzee.
Leopards: 15 George Tossel, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Charl Weideman, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Wynand Willis, 10 Clayton Durandt, 9 Whestley Moolman, 8 Morné Hanekom, 7 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 6 Philip de Wet, 5 Brendon Snyman, 4 Roelof van Heerden, 3 Stephan Bezuidenhout, 2 Stoffel Duvenhage, 1 Bennie Uys.
Replacements: 16 Bêrend Botha, 17 Gavin Williamson, 18 Christo van Niekerk, 19 Juan Pretorius, 20 Theo van Wyk, 21 Wesley Dunlop, 22 Walter Venter.
Referee: Sindile Mayende
Western Province v Blue Bulls
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.10; 15.10 GMT)
Prediction: This old rivalry will spark to life once more on Saturday, and although both sides are missing plenty of frontline players do not expect the intensity levels to drop off one bit. Both sides started their Currie Cup campaigns indifferently this season so it really is tough to separate them. We will go with homeground advantage and back Western Province to win by less than five points.
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 Koster, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Rohan Kitshoff, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg (captain), 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Adriaan Fondse, 19 Nick Fenton-Wells, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Berton Klaasen, 22 Marcel Brache.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Gerhard van den Heever, 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 Warwick Tecklenburg, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Francois Venter.
Referee: Craig Joubert
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