There will be a fitting finale to the first round of fixtures in the Currie Cup this weekend as the Lions and the Sharks do battle for top spot in their clash in Johannesburg.
Both teams have only lost one match in the competition so far and with the Sharks just one log point behind the Lions after failing to secure a bonus point against the Leopards last week there will be everything to play for on Saturday.
The Blue Bulls will be focused on continuing their revival by registering their third consecutive victory when they take on the Leopards in Rustenburg on Friday night.
In the other matches this weekend Western Province will be keen to follow up on their impressive win over the Lions last week with a strong performance against a struggling Pumas outfit in Witbank while no quarter will be given when central rivals Griquas and the Cheetahs meet in Kimberley on Saturday.
The Pumas are the only team in the Currie Cup that have not won a game yet and while they came close in their first five matches, they were on the wrong end of a big drubbing in Bloemfontein last weekend.
However, according to Western Province coach Allister Coetzee the Cape side is expecting an open game and will not underestimate the Pumas, despite their big defeat last weekend.
"It will be crazy to underestimate the Pumas, even though they got some points against them last weekend. We need to forget what happened to them against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and look at their other games. They are still a quality side and have a lot of respect for them," said Coetzee.
The Leopards may be last on the log, but the Blue Bulls will not underestimate their opponents either as they aim to keep alive their hope of reaching the semifinals in October.
The Blue Bulls are still only sixth on the log and their coach Pine Pienaar said his team will have to improve every week if they are going to finish in the top four. The Blue Bulls boss was impressed with his team's display against the Griquas at Loftus Versfeld last weekend and is hoping that it will be a turning point in their season.
He said: "We've decided not to change our team after last weekend's good victory over Griquas, because we feel we have momentum for the first time this season. We now need these same players to build on that momentum.
"I think the team set a standard against Griquas, something we can measure ourselves against. If we want to stay in the hunt, we have to improve on that, because the second round will be even tougher for us when the pressure starts mounting closer to the playoffs," explained Pienaar.
The battle for supremacy in central South Africa will kick into gear when the cheetahs travel to Kimberley to take on their franchise partners the Griquas.
According to Adriaan Strauss, captain of the Free State Cheetahs, his team will not single out certain players that they might know better from playing together in Super Rugby.
He said: "If you do that, there is always the danger that some of their other players might surprise you. We're approaching this game like any other - we'd like to go there and win, and I'm sure they would like to get back on the winning track.
"Griquas never need extra motivation when playing at home and we're mindful of how good they are, even though they lost to the Blue Bulls last week. I'm sure both sides will give their all, and afterwards we'll be friends again," explained Strauss.
Kiwi coaches John Mitchell and John Plumtree go head to head as their teams fight over top spot on the standings in the match of the weekend in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Josh Strauss, bearded captain of the Lions, said their confidence remain strong despite last weekend's defeat at Newlands as his team gets set to take on the defending champions..
"It was a good learning curve. We possibly just let ourselves down with the kicking game. Still, we played well in the first half and had an opportunity to win the game. We know what we need to do now and how strong the Sharks are," said Strauss, who left the field early against WP after suffering a rib injury.
Sharks coach Plumtree said a lot is at stake in Johannesburg this weekend: "The challenge is to get it right this weekend. We're up against a really good defensive unit this week and a side that's had a lot of continuity from the Super Rugby tournament through to the Currie Cup.
"They aren't top of the log for nothing, they're scoring tries and their defence is pretty tidy so we're going to be challenged in both departments this weekend," he said.
Friday, August 26
Pumas v Western Province
(Puma Stadium, Witbank - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
Prediction: Western Province showed great character to hold off the table-topping Lions last week, and although they are playing away from home they will simply have too much for the injury-hit Pumas who have had the wind taken out of their sails with all of their close losses. Western Province to win by more than 20 points.
Pumas: 15 MJ Mentz, 14 Wilhelm Looch, 13 JW Jonker (captain), 12 Tian Meyer, 11 Deon Scholtz, 10 Coenie van Wyk, 9 Hendrik van der Nest, 8 Christo le Roux, 7 Martin Sithole, 6 Jaco Bouwer, 5 Eduan van der Walt, 4 Marius Coetzer, 3 Ashley Buys, 2 Marthinus van der Westhuizen, 1 Michael de Nieully Rice.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Brett Nel, 19 JP Mostert, 18 Reginald Kember, 20 Tiaan Marx, 21 Siviwe Magaba, 22 Johan Jackson.
Western Province: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Steven Hunt, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 JJ Engelbrecht, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Nizaam Carr, 6 Nick Fenton-Wells, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg (captain), 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Quinton Roux, 19 Tertius Daniller, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Marcel Brache, 22 Danie Poolman.
Referee: Stuart Berry
Leopards v Blue Bulls
(Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
Prediction: The Blue Bulls had their difficulties at the start of the season but they would have taken great heart from their dominant win over the Griquas last week. The Leopards will fight hard on home turf but will battle to keep up with the visitors who will take this one by about 15 points.
Leopards: 15 George Tossel, 14 Hoffman Maritz, 13 Jovan Bowles, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Vainon Willis, 10 Wesley Dunlop, 9 Whestley Moolman, 8 Morné Hanekom (captain), 7 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 6 Siya Mdaka, 5 Brad Mockford, 4 Brendan Snyman, 3 Stefan Bezuidenhout, 2 Jacques Moller, 1 Bennie Uys.
Replacements: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Dewald Coetzee, 18 Roan van Heerden, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Johan Laker, 21 Hennie Skorbinski, 22 Clayton Durand.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Zane Kirchner, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Gerhard van den Heever, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Fudge Mabeta, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha (captain), 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Dustin Jinka, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Francois Venter.
Referee: Joey Salmans
Saturday, August 27
Griquas v Cheetahs
(GWK Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
Prediction: There will be no holding back on Saturday when these central rivals go at it. The Cheetahs will be full of confidence after their thumping of the Pumas last week and they face a wounded Griquas outfit that was dominated by the Blue Bulls, but the team from Kimberley are an entirely different prospect at home and they will throw everything at their franchise partners. It will be tight but we are backing the Cheetahs to have too much class and to seal a close win by less than seven points.
Griquas: 15 Rudi Vogt, 14 Riaan Viljoen/Wilmaure Louw, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Dusty Noble, 10 Earl Rose, 9. Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jonathan Mokuena (captain), 7 Davon Raubenheimer, 6 Justin Downey, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Ivann Espag.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17, Kevin Stevens, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Marnus Schoeman, 20 Marnus Hugo, 21. Matthew Rosslee/Hanno Coetzee, Wilmaure Louw/Monty Dumond.
Cheetahs: 15 Riaan Smit, 14 Philip Snyman, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Corne Uys, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Pieter van Zyl, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Philip Burger.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Lions v Sharks
(Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
Prediction: These two teams have led the way this season so a high-quality affair can be expected as they battle over the top spot in the standings. The Lions are a settled outfit and will be backing themselves at home, but the defending champions welcome back a few key players this weekend so we are tipping them to take this one by less than five points.
Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Josh Strauss (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Johan Snyman, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Doppies La Grange, 22 Burton Francis.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 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 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Adrian Jacobs.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
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