Here it is folks – the big one! Three matches, all of which will have an impact on the semi-final line-ups for next weekend. None more so, of course, than the mouth-watering top-of-table decider between the Sharks and Western Province.
Game 1: Golden Lions v Griquas (Saturday 3pm)
This match has, alas, turned into a bit of a non-event, due to Griquas coach Pote Human’s decision to send a B-team to Ellis Park. The thinking is to keep his front-line troops fresh for the key relegation battle to come, since Griquas cannot finish any higher than 6th. Given the way the injury curse has hit them this season, you can hardly blame him for not wanting to risk the likes of Willie le Roux or Francois Brummer for this game. For the Lions, there’s a golden opportunity to pile on the points and hope to finish third – although a decent win by the Cheetahs in the game that follows could well dump them back into fourth spot anyway. We reckon the Lions will win this at a canter – by 15 points or more.
Lions: 15. Chrysander Botha; 14. Deon Helberg, 13. Lionel Mapoe, 12. Andries Coetzee, 11. Anthony Volmink; 10. Marnitz Boshoff, 9. Michael Bondesio; 8. Warren Whiteley, 7. Derick Minnie (c), 6. Warwick Tecklenburg; 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Chris van Zyl; 3. Julian Redelinghuys, 2. Willie Wepener, 1. Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16. Robbie Coetzee, 17. Bees Roux, 18. Lambert Groenewald, 19. Willie Britz, 20. Ross Cronje, 21. Lionel Cronje, 22. Kobus de Kock.
Griquas: 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Luzuko Vulindlu, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Johnathan Francke, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Du Randt Gerber, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Jaco Nepgen, 6 RJ Liebenberg, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Rynhard Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse (captain), 2 Matthew Dobson, 1 Janro van Niekerk.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Dalton Davis, 19 Patrick O’Brien, 20 Enrico Acker, 21 JP Nel, 22 Logan Basson.
Game 2: Cheetahs v Blue Bulls (Saturday 5:05pm)
Now this game should be a bit spicier. The Blue Bulls appear to be outgunned and also out of the running, but the sheer fact that they’ll need to chase a big bonus point win could see some “blaze of glory” style heroics in Bloemfontein. The Cheetahs have welcomed back some decent beef in their pack, though and there’s also the rumoured appearance of Johan Goosen, although he hasn’t been named, for the Bulls to contend with. Looking at the respective line-ups, the Bulls just don’t appear to have the firepower to take this one, meaning a Cheetahs win by 8 points in what should be a high-scoring game.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagné, 6 Johannes Prinsloo, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Freddie Ngoza, 19 Teboho Mohoje, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Piet Lindeque, 22 Willie du Plessis.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudi Paige, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 5 David Bulbring, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Francois Venter, 22 Clayton Blommetjies.
Game 3: Sharks v Western Province (Saturday 7:10pm)
This is the big one and the permutations can’t get any simpler. Win and you top the log. Lose and you don’t. It won’t make any difference for next week, of course, since both teams already have home semi-finals lined up, but by the time this game kicks off, they’ll know which team they’ll get in those semi-finals. It’s the venue for the following week’s final, though, that’s up in the air and while both sides know that a home semi-final is NEVER a guarantee of a final appearance, certainly whichever side wins here has the inside track to that lucrative pay-day. Both sides have welcomed back Springboks – the Sharks have bolstered their starting line-up, while Province have oodles of class on the bench in the form of Jean de Villiers and the inimitable Schalk Burger. One fancies that the up-front battle should be edged by the home side, but whether their backs are able to make enough of that slight edge to force the win remains to be seen. Province have strike threats all over their 22 and the Sharks will need to be on their toes defensively in order to prevent the likes of Juan de Jongh from scoring yet another heartbreaking try against them. We fancy that the home side should have just about enough to win this one, with home ground advantage giving them the slightest of edges. Sharks, in other words, by 3 points.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Stephan Lewies, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Pat Lambie, 22 Louis Ludik.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Frans Malherbe, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Jean de Villiers.