Sharks, WP eye home Currie Cup semifinals

The Sharks and Western Province will have home semifinals in sight when they take to the field in the penultimate pool round of the Currie Cup Premier Division this weekend.

With the round-robin stages almost at a close The Sharks and Western Province need to win only one of their two remaining matches to ensure that they secure the home semifinals, or alternatively, the Golden Lions have to suffer a defeat.

Further down the log three teams still harbour realistic hopes of finishing in the top four alongside the Sharks and Western Province, which will set the scene for a nail-biting round.

Griquas, meanwhile, are expected to put their bodies on the line in the hope of avoiding the wooden spoon and resultant promotion-relegation playoffs after winning only one of their eight matches so far this season.

But with the Blue Bulls six points ahead on the log table, Griquas need to win both their matches, while the Blue Bulls have to suffer defeats without bonus points in order to prevent finishing last.

On Friday the Blue Bulls host The Sharks at Loftus Versfeld, and in Saturday’s clashes Griquas host the Free State Cheetahs in Kimberley and Western Province meet the Golden Lions in Cape Town.

Blue Bulls vs The Sharks

In Pretoria, form and history will favour The Sharks, who come off three back-to-back victories and who have won six of the last eight matches between the sides dating back to the 2010 competition. But the Blue Bulls also come off a morale-boosting 52-10 victory against Griquas and will be aware of the fact that another defeat could dash their semifinal hopes.

The forward battle is expected to take centre stage given the quality of both team’s forwards, however, should the match open up it could be thrilling as they both boast exciting backs. The Blue Bulls, in particular, will have to maintain a similarly high standard on defence to that which they displayed last week and protect their ball in contact to prevent The Sharks from using their impressive attacking skills to dominate proceedings.

Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar made three changes to the starting team that thumped Griquas with Springbok wing Bjorn Basson named on the left wing after being released from the national team, while hooker Bongi Mbonambi and prop Frik Kristen replace Bandise Maku and Werner Kruger respectively.

Basson’s presence, in particular, will serve as a welcome boost with the team under pressure to win to stake a claim for a semifinal berth.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have named veteran looseforwards Jean Deysel and Jacques Botes in their loose trio alongside captain Keegan Daniel, while they welcomed back Springbok flank Marcell Coetzee from the national team and back Louis Ludik from a well-deserved rest. The clash will mark special milestone for Daniel, who will earn his 100th Currie Cup cap, and Botes, who will match Helgard Muller’s record of 142 Currie Cup matches.

Match Officials
Referee
: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman, Attie Buitendag
TMO: Deon van Blommestein

Teams

Blue Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, William Small-Smith, Francois Venter, Bjorn Basson, Handre Pollard, Rudy Paige, Jono Ross (c), Jacques du Plessis, Wiaan Liebenberg, David Bulbring, Paul Willemse, Frik Kirsten, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Marcel van der Merwe.

Replacements: Bandise Maku, Dean Greyling, Grant Hattingh, Jacques Engelbrecht, Lohan Jacobs, Ulrich Beyers, Sampie Mastriet.

The Sharks: SP Marais; Odwa Ndungane, Tim Whitehead, Heimar Williams, Lwazi Mvovo; Fred Zeilinga, Cobus Reinach; Keegan Daniel (capt), Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes; Stephan Lewies, Peet Marais; Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: Monde Hadebe, Danie Mienie, Edwin Hewitt, Marcell Coetzee, Charl McLeod, Butch

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