The Currie Cup will have an interesting flavour this weekend with the inclusion of over 20 Springboks released from the national set-up, which makes the outcome of many of the games quite tough to predict.
The game between the Leopards and the Pumas on Friday night is the only match this weekend which will not feature any of the released Springboks, but some hard-hitting action can still be expected as both teams seek their first win of the season.
After having come very close to victory in all three of their previous matches, the Pumas will be anxious to get over the line against a team that they beat twice last year.
That record could point to the team from Mpumalanga being favourites for this match, but they will be mindful of the North Westerners' strong performance against the Golden Lions who they ran close in Johannesburg last week.
"Yes, the Leopards were not great in their first two games, but against the Golden Lions last week they really played very well and will be ready for us with their tails up," said Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse.
"We were disappointed with our first half performance against Griquas last week, but came back strongly in the second half and that's what I’d like to see in Potch this weekend," he added.
The Sharks lost to the Griquas in Kimberley last year, but the defending champions have looked good in their unbeaten start to the competition this year and will take some stopping with plenty of Boks on the bench.
The Griquas turned it on in the first half last week but their coach Abré Minnie knows that only an 80 minute performance will be good enough against the Sharks.
He commented: "We're very happy with the result in Nelspruit, but obviously we wouldn't have minded a better second half performance. Having said that, the victory gave us huge confidence.
"But The Sharks will also come to Kimberley very confident – they've won three games and John Plumtree has opted to put his returning Boks on the bench. I think that's a good move, as they have momentum and would like to keep it. The Sharks are definitely riding the crest of the wave at the moment," added Minnie.
After two consecutive defeats, the Free State Cheetahs are with their backs to the wall when they host high-flying Western Province in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
However, the home side welcome back four Springboks to their team while the visitors do not have one, and the Cheetahs will be hoping that their turning stars make a big impact in front of the home crowd.
Western Province captain and hooker, Tiaan Liebenberg, whose brother Hercu has been included on the Cheetahs bench, said: "The return of their Boks will definitely boost the Cheetahs. Those guys are all quality players so they would like to show they deserve spot in the team.
"The Cheetahs will be firing on Saturday. They have a very good side and always play with heart and soul in Bloemfontein. They are a dangerous side from broken play and can hold onto the ball for 15, 16 phases. We're going to have to protect our possession," he added.
The unbeaten Golden Lions face their toughest challenge to date when they travel to Pretoria to play a Blue Bulls side bolstered by the return of six Springboks. This includes a full Bok front row in Werner Kruger, Chilliboy Ralepelle and Dean Greyling.
By contrast the Golden Lions have included their solitary Springbok, flyhalf Elton Jantjies, in their side that will travel to Pretoria.
Golden Lions forwards coach Johan Ackermann, realises it won't be an easy match, even though the Blue Bulls lost heavily to Western Province in Cape Town last weekend.
Ackermann had this to say about the upcoming derby: "If we play as well as we can, we can do it, regardless of the resistance we get. It is definitely a plus for the Bulls to have those players back, but it will also motivate us to give a good performance.
"We tend to have lapses in concentration in games. If you want to beat the Bulls you have to play for 80 minutes – especially when they're back against the wall. But our main challenge is just to keep our own game at a high standard," he said.
All the weekend's fixtures, predictions and teams:
Friday, August 5
Leopards v Pumas
(Olën Park, Potchefstroom - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
Prediction: There will be nothing held back in this battle of the minnows, the Leopards showed some encouraging form against the Lions last week but the Pumas have pushed every one of the big teams they have played this season and will win this one by about 10 points.
Leopards: 15 George Tossel, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Charl Weideman, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Wynand Willis, 10 Wesley Dunlop, 9 Whestley Moolman, 8 Morné Hanekom, 7 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 6 Philip de Wet, 5 Brendon Snyman, 4 Roelof van Heerden, 3 Stephan Bezuidenhout, 2 Gavin Williamson, 1 BG Uys.
Replacements: 16 Bêrend Botha, 17 Marius Fourie, 18 Christo van Niekerk, 19 Juan Pretorius, 20 Theo van Wyk, 21 Walter Venter, 22 Clayton Durand.
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 Rudi Mathee, 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 Hendrik van der Nest, 21 Dewald Pretorius, 22 Carl Bezuidenhout.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe
Griquas v Sharks
(GWK Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
Prediction: The Griquas are always difficult to play in Kimberley, as the Sharks discovered last year, but the defending champions have looked polished so far this season and will bring their Springboks off the bench if they need extra firepower in the second half. We are tipping the Sharks to take it by more than seven points.
Griquas: 15 Rudi Vogt, 14 Riaan Viljoen, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Dusty Noble, 10 Earl Rose, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Burger Schoeman, 7 Davon Raubenheimer, 6 Jonathan Mokuena (captain), 5 Martin Muller, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Jean Botha.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Ivann Espag, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Marnus Schoeman, 20 Matthew Rosslee, 21 Monty Dumond, 22 Wilmaure Louw.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Mark Richards, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Jan Andre Marais, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Patrick Lambie, 22 Marius Joubert.
Referee: Lesego Legoete
Saturday, August 6
Free State Cheetahs v Western Province
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
Prediction: Western Province looked irresistable last week when they took the Blue Bulls apart, and they will benefit from continuity as their team has not been disrupted by injury. However, the Cheetahs have a number of key players returning and should sneak a narrow victory in front of their home crowd by less than five points.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Herkie Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Heinrich Brüssow, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Corné Uys, 22 Philip Burger.
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 Pieter Louw, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Berton Klaasen, 22 Marcel Brache.
Referee: Sindile Mayende
Blue Bulls v Golden Lions
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
Prediction: The unbeaten Golden Lions are riding high on top of the table and they face a Blue Bulls team that took a big knock at Newlands last week, but the home team welcome back a few big guns and they should be a different prospect. The Lions were also less than convincing in their victory over the Leopards last week so we are backing the Blue Bulls to win this one by about seven points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Stephan Dippenaar, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Dustin Jinka, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 6 Derick Küun, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Fudge Mabeta, 19 Deon Stegmann, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Marntiz Boshoff, 22 Jurgen Visser.
Lions: 15 Michael Killian, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 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 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Patric Cilliers, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Warren Whiteley, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Jaco Taute.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
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