The Currie Cup moves past the halfway mark this weekend and the fourth round will be sure to deliver loads of action as the teams prepare for a thrilling home stretch with their eyes firmly on semi-final spots.
The Bulls – whose match against Griquas in Kimberley on Saturday was cancelled due to players and management from the North Gautengers testing positive for COVID-19 – hold a narrow lead at the top of the log, while only three points separate the second-placed Sharks and the Lions in fourth place.
The Cheetahs – with a game in hand – are also ready to pounce further down on the standings, while the Phakisa Pumas are hanging on by a thread with a mathematical chance of possibly advancing to the semi-finals.
With the clash in Kimberly cancelled, round four will feature only two matches. The Pumas take on the Cheetahs in Nelspruit on Friday night, and on Saturday the Lions welcome the Sharks to Johannesburg. Western Province have a bye.
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Do or die for Pumas in Nelspruit
Defending Carling Currie Cup champions, the Cheetahs, will hunt their first victory in the competition this season when they line up against a Pumas outfit fighting for survival at the Mbombela Stadium on Friday evening.
A victory for the Free Staters would not only reinforce their dominance against the men from Mpumalanga in the competition after suffering only one defeat against them since 2015, it would also allow them to close the gap on the top four.
The Pumas, meanwhile, will enter the match knowing they need to win – and preferably with a bonus point – or their playoff aspirations will take a possible killer blow.
Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse tweaked his team, naming the fleet-footed Devon Williams at flyhalf and Etienne Taljaard on the right wing, which sees Luther Obi move to No 11. The only change in the pack of forwards is at blindside flanker, where Phumzile Maqondwana takes over from Darrien Landsberg.
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie named two-time Rugby World Cup-winner Frans Steyn at flyhalf, next to the exciting Ruben de Haas, in a team featuring six changes to the backline.
Howard Mnisi will join forces with Dries Swanepoel, who earns his first start, in the midfield, while Duncan Saal will make his Currie Cup debut for the Cheetahs on the wing in a duo with William Small-Smith.
Upfront, Marnus van der Merwe has been promoted from the bench and will start at hooker while Carl Wegner and Reniel Hugo have been named at lock.
Pumas – 15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Etienne Taljaard, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Ali Mgijima, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Devon Williams, 9 Chriswill September, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Phumzile Maqondwana, 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren (captain), 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Ignatius Prinsloo, 2 Simon Westraadt, 1 Morgan Naude. Replacements: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Dewald Maritz, 18 Wikus Groenewald, 19 Darrien Landsberg, 20 Ewart Potgieter, 21 Ginter Smuts, 22 Tiaan Botes, 23 Wayne van der Bank.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Duncan Saal, 13 Dries Swanepoel 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 William Small-Smith, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Ruben de Haas, 8 Jeandré Rudolph, 7 Aidon Davis, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner (captain), 3 Khutha Mchunu, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Boan Venter. Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Cameron Dawson, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 Oupa Mohoje, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Reinhardt Fortuin, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Match information – Phakisa Pumas v Toyota Cheetahs
Date: Friday, 18 December 2020
Time: 19h00 (SA TIME)
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron and Morne Ferreira
TMO: Pro Legoete
Lions ready to hunt in Johannesburg
The Lions will have their sights set on ending a three-year Currie Cup losing run against the Sharks when they cross paths in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Both teams have a lot to play for as the Durbanites’ will be determined to remain in second place on the table to stay within range of possibly leapfrogging log leaders, the Vodacom Bulls, in the next few weeks, while the men from Johannesburg could hop into second place if they register a win.
Fueling the Lions’ motivation, they will want to avenge their heartbreaking three-point defeat against the KwaZulu-Natalians earlier this season and change their Currie Cup fortunes against the visitors.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen named an unchanged starting team for the spectacle, however, Sti Sithole (prop) and Vincent Tshituka (flanker) both had injury scares this week and will have to pass late fitness tests to prove their readiness to take the field.
Should they be ruled out, Dylan Smith and Wilhelm van der Sluys will move into the starting line-up respectively.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt made four changes to his tight five with Ox Nche – who is the only player to retain his place – packing down next to Kerron van Vuuren (hooker), with Michael Kumbirai anchoring the scrum on the tighthead side.
Behind them, JJ van der Mescht and Aston Fortuin form a new second row partnership, with Fortuin, making his Carling Currie Cup debut for the Cell C Sharks.
“The Lions match this weekend is going to be tough – we expect them to be hungry and I think it’s going to be a really good game,” said Kumbirai.
“The Lions have a really good scrum, their set-piece has been a strength of theirs and that’s going to be a great battle on Saturday.”
Lions – 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 André Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka/Wilhelm van der Sluys, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole/Dylan Smith. Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Morné van den Berg, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Jamba Ulengo.
Sharks – 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 JJ van der Mescht, 3 Michael Kumbirai, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche. Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 James Venter, 21 Phepsi Buthelezi, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Match information – Xerox Lions v Cell C Sharks
Date: Saturday, 19 December 2020
Time: 19h00 (SA TIME)
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Cwengile Jadezweni and Aimee Barrett-Theron
TMO: Stuart Berry