Tough tests in store for top two
September 10, 2009
The Blue Bulls will be keen to bounce back after last weekend's defeat at Western Province © Getty Images
The Natal Sharks and Western Province are locked together at the top of the standings as we head into round 10 of what is proving an enthralling Currie Cup campaign. Things should get even more interesting this weekend, with the top two, who are separated by nothing more than points difference, both facing difficult away ties.
The Sharks, who reclaimed top spot on the back of their resounding win at Boland last week, must make the always daunting trip to Pretoria to take on the Bulls on Saturday.
The Durban-based outfit are buoyed, though, by the availability of Patric Cilliers. The prop had been a major doubt for the game with a knee injury but has been cleared to start in the front row after passing a late fitness test.
However, there is one change to the side which overwhelmed Boland in Wellington, with Andries Strauss earning a recall at outside centre at the expense of Waylon Murray, who has been dropped to the bench.
After blowing a half-time lead in their clash with Province at Newlands last weekend, the unchanged Bulls know that nothing less than a victory will suffice if they are to keep their playoff hopes on track. Indeed, the fourth-placed Bulls are now looking nervously over their shoulders at the Free State Cheetahs, just two points behind them in the standings.
And it is the in-form Cheetahs who second-placed Western Province must tackle earlier in the day.
Province are on a roll after successive wins over the Sharks and the Bulls but the free-scoring Cheetahs are arguably the form side in South Africa, having racked up five wins on the bounce after opening their season with four defeats in a row.
The visitors have also been rocked by the news that Morgan Newman has been ruled out of action for six months with a knee injury sustained in the win over the Bulls. Frikkie Welsh will fill the void in midfield this weekend.
As for the Cheetahs, Meyer Bosman returns at inside centre and that sees Corne Uys switch to No.13. In a further change to the back-line, Lionel Mapoe gets the nod on the right wing ahead of JW Jonker, who has to make do with a seat on the bench.
On the Friday, the Griquas will be aiming to consolidate their hold on third spot, and perhaps even take advantage of any subsequent slips by the top two, when they travel to Wellington to take on basement boys Boland Cavaliers.
The Griquas will be confident after their thrilling 34-33 win over the Leopards and will be eyeing a five-point haul from their meeting with a Boland side which has not tasted victory since the opening day of the season.
The visitors welcome back the fit-again scrum-half Sarel Pretorius, while the hosts have made wholesale changes after being routed at home by the Sharks last weekend.
Harry Vermaas comes in at hooker for former Boland capain Clemen Lewis at hooker, while Nico Esterhuyse has been drafted into the second row in a change that results in Rito Hlungwane being moved to flanker.
There are two debutants included in the backs, with Hayden Groepes and Dandre Gerber, son of Springbok legend Danie, named at fullback and inside centre respectively. Groepes' inclusion at No.15 sees Justin Peach switch to the left wing.
In the Friday evening game, the Golden Lions host the Leopards at Ellis Park knowing that nothing less than a victory will suffice if they are to keep their slim chances of making the top four alive.
After a stirring 20-13 win over the Bulls, last weekend's reversal against Free State in Bloemfontein came as a massive disappointment for the Lions. They are now five points behind the fifth-placed Bulls, so a bonus-point victory is imperative if the men from Johannesburg are to force their way back into the play-off picture.
In terms of the Lions' team selection, Wayne Swart and Kevin Buys have been drafted into the front row, while Franco van der Merwe has been switched to the second row to facilitate the inclusion of Todd Clever at openside flanker. Behind the scrum, Ruan Boshoff has been entrusted with the No.10 jersey, while Doppies La Grange has been preferred to Pieter Engelbracht at inside centre.
The Leopards, meanwhile, have lost Rudi Mathee to injury so there is a start for Rynard Landman in the second row.
"We know where we are going and we know where we want to get but how long that will take is anybody's guess." David Humphreys on his plans for Gloucester
Jim Mallinder and Justin Burnell were sat on the same top table, but in different circumstances. Tom Hamilton reports on the Aviva Premiership season launch
Tom Hamilton reports back from the launch of the Guinness PRO12 where there is a renewed sense of optimism with all of the off-field changes to the league
So much for the great Australian revival, writes Greg Growden. It now has the potential of going off the rails after the capitulation at Eden Park