Eighteen Springboks who were part of the record-breaking Tri-Nations victory over Australia will feature in one way or another this weekend as the Absa Currie Cup semifinal race nears fever-pitch.
News 24 reports that Only Adi Jacobs (Sharks), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Jongi Nokwe (FS Cheetahs), Butch James and Percy Montgomery (Western Province) are not in action this weekend as national attention turns firmly onto the Currie Cup.
Jacobs is being rested after a bruising Tri-Nations campaign, Nokwe picked up an ankle injury whilst scoring his fourth try against the Wallabies, James does not play domestically in South Africa at the moment and Montgomery has a stomach ailment.
Cheetahs v Western Province
The rest, however, are all available, with Western Province slotting all their first-choice players straight back into the mix; giving them no fewer than 11 Springboks in their starting line-up.
But, even with the wealth of players at their disposal, WP coach Allister Coetzee is not even contemplating certain victory against the defending champions, the Free State Cheetahs, when the two teams meet at Vodacom Park on Saturday at 15:00.
“It might look good on paper, but we all know that games are not won on paper,” said Coetzee after announcing the WP team on Wednesday. “This team hasn’t played together as a combination for some time now; it’s not just a case of pitching up and winning.”
Making WP’s challenge that much tougher is the fact that the FS Cheetahs have not lost a Currie Cup match in Bloemfontein since 2006 – when they went down 24-12 to the Blue Bulls on August 5. Plus, the Cheetahs have also been boosted by the return of skipper Juan Smith and hooker Adriaan Strauss to their playing ranks.
“That home record is something we pride ourselves on and it’s an honour the players intend on protecting for as long as possible,” Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske told www.sarugby.coza this week.
“Teams like WP and the Bulls are always hard to beat away from home and we certainly owe them something after losing away to them during the first round of fixtures,” added the man who was recently crowned as the Currie Cup Coach of the Month for August.
Sharks v Blue Bulls
The mass Bok injection into the Currie Cup does not end with the Cheetahs-WP match, with the top-of-the-table Sharks v Blue Bulls clash in Durban on Saturday (kick-off 17:05) also looking like a proverbial “Who’s Who of Springbok rugby”.
The Sharks can once again consider the likes of Odwa Ndungane, Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Jannie du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis for selection, but also making a welcome return to the side is skipper Johann Muller, who has been injured for some time.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have fit-again IRB World Player of the Year Bryan Habana back in the mix, along with current Bok captain Victor Matfield, hardman Danie Rossouw, No 8 Pierre Spies and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez.
With first place on the log up for grabs once again, neither side will be lacking in motivation – but the Sharks will feel they owe the Bulls one after their 35-14 loss at Loftus earlier in the season.
“It is definitely make or break in terms of securing home finals and semi-finals,” said Sharks centre Brad Barritt on www.sharksrugby.co.za.
“We really need to win the games heading up to the semis, for us, the aim is to win every game from hereon in, if we can do that, we would have achieved our target. Looking at these two weeks, it’s two big teams, big rugby days, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Lions v Falcons
With all the talk of returning Springbok players this weekend, the Lions continue to go about their business without any current Boks in their selection equation.
After a poor start to the 2008 Currie Cup season, which saw them lose two successive matches, the Johannesburg-based side got their season back on track 35-23 home win over the Falcons in early July.
They have produced some impressive results since then – including an away win over the Blue Bulls – and now find themselves back where it all started with a fixture against the Falcons, albeit away from home, on Friday night.
“We have spent the week training hard and will be ready and prepared for Friday night,” said a confident Lions coach Eugene Eloff.
“We are in a strong semifinal position and will be taking each game as it comes and will certainly be putting our all into each game. The focus is on each individual game at the moment, and on winning each game.”
The Lions could potentially shut the door on WP’s semifinal prospects should they beat the Falcons – especially if WP lose to the Cheetahs – but there is a battle of a different type for the Griquas and the Boland Cavaliers when they meet in Kimberley on Saturday.
Griquas v Boland
The last fixture between these two teams produced a hard-fought 9-9 draw in Wellington, but this time around victory is non-negotiable as Griquas (sixth place on the log) and Boland (eighth) look to avoid that dreaded relegation match at the end of the season.
However, Boland were dealt a bitter blow this week with the news that flyhalf Isma-eel Dollie would miss the rest of the season with a groin injury, along with lock Frikkie Spies, who has a shoulder problem.
“It is really tough when your group of players is not that big. But I suppose it is something the so-called ‘smaller unions’ have to live with,” Boland coach Deon Davids lamented, before also revealing that hooker Clemen Lewis (knee) and wing Danwell Demas (shoulder) would miss Saturday’s crucial clash.
Injury worries aside for Boland, Griquas will be on a high after their 59-19 trouncing of the dangerous Falcons a fortnight ago and they have the added motivation of possibly even leap-frogging Western Province into fifth place on the log, should the Capetonians lose in Bloemfontein.Tweet