At the halfway stage in the Currie Cup season it is back to square one with a repeat of the opening round of fixtures, and there are some scores to be settled as teams starting eyeing semifinal spots.
It has been a tough season for the Blue Bulls, but they have won their last three games and will be looking to continue that trend against the defending champions in what should be the game of the weekend at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
On Friday evening, the Pumas will be looking for revenge when they host the table-topping Lions, after their close defeat in the opening round in Johannesburg.
The other games this weekend are between Griquas and Western Province in Kimberley, and the Leopards and the Cheetahs in Potchefstroom.
The Lions needed a late try to beat the Pumas in the opening Currie Cup fixture this season and coach John Mitchell's men will travel to the Mbombela Stadium knowing they cannot afford to underestimate the team from Mpumalanga.
The Pumas have not registered a victory yet this season, despite running some of the big name teams very close, so they will be desperate to show that they have the killer instinct to put the table-topping Lions away.
Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse is relieved to be able to welcome back experienced players like flank and captain, Corne Steenkamp, prop Dawie Steyn and scrumhalf Shaun Venter, who have all been out injured.
He said: "We've been struggling with injuries, but these players are basically all fit again and it's great to have them back, as they form an experienced core for us. But even with them back, it won't be easy.
"The Lions top the log and even though they've had their fair share of luck, but have been on the winning side in six of their matches, which brings confidence. That will only increase the pressure on us.
"If we can limit our mistakes and play with confidence, we can do it again. We only just lost to the Lions in the first round and with the injured players back, we'll be ready for them in Nelspruit this weekend," added Stonehouse.
Kimberley has proven to be a difficult destination in the Currie Cup this year, with Griquas winning three out of their four matches thus far at GWK Park, including victories over the Sharks and the Cheetahs.
Even though Western Province crushed Griquas in the corresponding fixture last year, they will still be mindful of the danger posed by the team from the Northern Cape who held them to a 26-26 draw at Newlands in the opening round of fixtures this season.
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee knows that his relatively young side will be seriously tested by a Griquas side that will be full of confidence following their comeback victory over the Cheetahs in Kimberley last week.
He commented: "It is going to be tough against Griquas. Last year's trip to Kimberley was probably the turning point in our season, but we know it is not going to be easy. They will be confident after a good display last week.
"We know we will have to respect the ball this week. They are excellent at counter attacking and have a lot of players who can punish you. It will be vital to be accurate, to play the game in the correct areas and to capitalise when we are in those areas," said Coetzee.
The Cape side only managed to score three tries against the struggling Pumas in Witbank last week and their coach is keen for them to convert the opportunities that they create in Kimberley.
"Last week (against the Pumas) the bounce of the ball was not there for us, but no excuses we had plenty of chances that we did not take. That is what we are looking to change against Griquas - we need to be more clinical when we create opportunities," he said.
The Leopards have managed to restrict both the defending champion Sharks and the Blue Bulls to just three tries in the last two weeks and their defence will have another big job on their hands in Potchefstroom on Saturday as they take on a Cheetahs team that will be desperate to bounce back from their defeat to the Griquas in Kimberley last week.
Leopards coach Leon Boshoff said a big aim for his team in the coming weeks will be possession and making sure they protect the ball when they have it. This will be paramount against a Free State side that is very dangerous from turn overs.
He said: "Looking back at the first round, it's clear we've not used our scoring opportunities, mainly because we have not protected the ball well enough when it was in our possession. When we keep the ball on attack, we've scored 95 percent of the time, but we only do that 20 percent of the time.
"Considering that we're defending most of the time, I can't really find too much fault with our defence. Now we need to get more possession and look after it better. It won't be easy against the Free State Cheetahs - they lost last week, but have shown what they can do in their match against the Pumas, where they scored 80 points," added Boshoff.
Considering that the Cheetahs scored 78 points against the Leopards in Phokeng last year and 71 in Potchefstroom in 2009, it is clear the team from North West have a massive task on their hands.
Despite recording a hat-trick of wins Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar realises his team have not achieved anything yet and while they welcome back experienced players in Bjorn Basson, Dewald Potgieter and Juandre Kruger this weekend, the task at hand is still a huge one against the defending champions.
Pienaar said: "We might have won three in a row now, but it means nothing until we have moved into the play-off positions. Our aim remains to win the Currie Cup this year and to put ourselves in that position we will have to keep on winning and beat the Sharks on the weekend.
"It is great for a coach to be able to recall players like Dewald, Bjorn and Juandre, but it is still no guarantee for success. We will still need to bring our absolute A-game if we want to beat a very good side," he added.
The Sharks will be keen to show their champion pedigree by bouncing back from their defeat to the Lions last week. Coach John Plumtree's charges will be determined to stage a repeat of their dominant performance against the Blue Bulls at Kings Park earlier this season to put some pressure on the pace setters at the top of the standings.
Friday, September 2
Pumas v Lions
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
Prediction: The Pumas will be desperate to exact revenge on the Lions for their heartbreaking first round defeat and they have been bolstered by the return of some key players but the Lions have gained some impressive momentum this season and we are backing them to take this one by less than seven points.
Pumas: 15 MJ Mentz, 14 Deon Scholtz, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Tian Meyer, 11 Wilhelm Looch, 10 Coenie van Wyk, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Christo le Roux, 7 Jaco Bouwer, 6 Corne Steenkamp (captain), 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Rudi Matthee, 3 Ashley Buys, 2 Marthinus van der Westhuizen, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Willem Serfontein, 19 Reginald Kember, 20 Martin Sithole, 21 Tiaan Marx, 22 Johan Jackson.
Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley/Joshua Strauss, 7 Michael Rhodes, 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 Warren Whiteley/Joshua Strauss, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Doppies La Grange, 22 Burton Francis.
Saturday, September 3
Griquas v Western Province
(GWK Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
Prediction: The Griquas have their tails up after an impressive victory over the Cheetahs last week and they will be keen to continue their hot home form against a young Western Province team with more promise than experience. Coach Allister Coetzee's charges will back themselves in Kimberley but we think the home team will clinch this one by about five points.
Forwards: Ivann Espag, Steph Roberts, Lourens Adriaanse, Ryno Barnes, Simon Westraadt, Hendrik Roodt, Frikkie Spies, Martin Muller, Justin Downey, Davon Raubenheimer, Jonathan Mokuena, Marnus Schoeman, Leon Karemaker.
Backs: Sarel Pretorius, Marnus Hugo, Riaan Viljoen, Earl Rose, Hanno Coetzee, Matthew Rosslee, Jean Stemmet, Wilmaure Louw, Dusty Noble, Rocco Jansen, Rudi Vogt.
Western Province: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 JJ Engelbrecht, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Tertius Daniller, 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 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Berton Klaasen, 22 Steven Hunt.
Leopards v Cheetahs
(Olën Park, Potchestroom - Kick-off: 16.00; 14.00 GMT)
Prediction: The Leopards have tackled ferociously in the last couple of weeks and they will give absolutely everything at home in Potchefstroom but they will struggle to keep up with a Cheetahs team that will be determined to get back to winning ways after their hiccup in Kimberley last week. The Cheetahs to win this one by at least 20 points.
Leopards: 15 George Tossel, 14 Hoffman Maritz, 13 Jovan Bowles, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Vainon Willis, 10 Wesley Dunlop, 9 Whesley Moolman, 8 Morné Hanekom (captain), 7 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 6 Siya Mdaka, 5 Brad Mockford, 4 Brendan Snyman, 3 Stefan Bezuidenhout, 2 Marius Fourie, 1 BG Uys.
Replacements: 16 Jacques Moller, 17 Dewald Coetzee, 18 Roan van Heerden, 19 Juan Pretorius, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Hennie Skorbinski, 22 Clayton Durand.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Philip Burger, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Philip Snyman, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Pieter van Zyl, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Johan Wessels, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Riaan Smit.
Blue Bulls v Sharks
(Loftus Versveld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
Prediction: The Blue Bulls may have had their difficulties this season but they are always a tough prospect at fortress Loftus and the Sharks will have to be on top of their game if they are to take this one. The Durban side are on the back foot after their loss to the Lions last week and they face a Blue Bulls outfit that has been gaining momentum in recent weeks. We are tipping the Blue Bulls to take this one by about five points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Zane Kirchner, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Juandré Kruger, 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 Arno Botha, 20 Dustin Jinka, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Francois Venter.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Jandre Marais, 3 Eugene van Staden, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Adrian Jacobs.
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