With just 2 knockout Rounds left until the 2015 ABSA Currie Cup champions are crowned this year, the 4 remaining teams in the country’s oldest and most prestigious domestic rugby competition have it all to play for in the 2 Semifinals this weekend.
DHL Western Province, the 2014 champions, travel to Pretoria for their clash on Friday evening against the Vodacom Blue Bulls. The Blue Bulls, who finished 2nd on the Log, will host their 1st ABSA Currie Cup Semifinal since 2008, with the match starting at 19:00 SA Time (17:00 GMT).
The in-form Xerox Golden Lions, meanwhile, have so far swept aside every challenge before them this season and they are currently on a 10-match unbeaten run in the competition. They are playing in the 2nd Semifinal at home in Johannesburg at Emirates Airline Park against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs. This Saturday fixture kick-off is at 13:45 SA Time (11:45 GMT).
The clash in Pretoria will mark the 3rd time that the 2 great North vs South rivals meet this season, and they currently share the spoils between them with a home victory each. Last year, the Cape side defeated their rivals 31 / 23 in the Semifinal at Newlands.
Western Province eventually went on to lift the coveted ABSA Currie Cup trophy in front of their home crowd, after former coach Allister Coetzee’s charges edged the Golden Lions 19 / 16 in the 2014 final.
The Xerox Golden Lions scored a runaway 73 / 31 victory over the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in their round-robin meeting last month in Bloemfontein and they should be fresh and rejuvenated after fielding a new-look side for last weekend’s last league fixture against the ORC Griquas.
However, the Free State Cheetahs will approach the meeting with the Golden Lions knowing that previous form will count for nothing in the knockout phase. They managed to escape defeat against the Cell C Sharks last Saturday thanks to a gritty fightback in Bloemfontein and this week they will have to show that fighting spirit from the start against the team that have so far have thrived on their high-tempo, fast attacking style of play.
Vodacom Blue Bulls:
Coach Nollis Marais has named Jacques du Plessis at lock for Friday night’s clash against DHL Western Province at Loftus Versfeld. Du Plessis was a late withdrawal to the team that edged the Steval Pumas 25 / 24 in Nelspruit last weekend, but he is ready to reclaim his regular No 4 spot in the team.
RG Snyman, who replaced Du Plessis for the Steval Pumas match, moves back to the bench as impact player, but his replacement in Nelspruit, Jason Jenkins, retains his spot on the bench. Jenkins will take over from Ruan Steenkamp as the 4th loose forward as Marais opted for more bulk on the bench.
DHL Western Province:
DHL Western Province were boosted by the return of several fit-again regulars for their clash in Pretoria. Fullback Cheslin Kolbe, wing Seabelo Senatla, centre Johnny Kotze, flank Rynhardt Elstadt, lock Ruan Botha and hooker Bongi Mbonambi all return to the starting 15 this week. The return of the physical Elstadt especially is a major boost for DHL WP as he missed the last 4 matches with a thigh problem.
Skipper Juan de Jongh will lead the defending champions into battle and will pair up with Johnny Kotze in midfield, with Senatla, Dillyn Leyds and Kolbe forming a dangerous back 3. Nic Groom and Robert du Preez are the halfbacks, with scrumhalf Jano Vermaak back on the bench after missing WP’s last 2 matches with a groin strain.
Prop Oli Kebble has shaken off an ankle injury and will be on the bench, where he is joined by lock Chris van Zyl.
Xerox Golden Lions:
After last week’s wholesale changes against the ORC Griquas, the regulars return for the playoff in Johannesburg. Captain Jaco Kriel (flank) will again lead the team while the leadership group of Warren Whiteley (No 8), Ross Cronjé (scrumhalf) and Howard Mnisi (inside centre) are all back on duty.
Prop Jacques van Rooyen and flanker Steph de Wit, who were on the bench last weekend and are back in the run-on team. Centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, hooker Robbie Coetzee, flyhalf Jaco van der Walt, winger Sampie Mastriet, forward utility Fabian Booysen and impact specialist Kwagga Smith will all do duty on the bench.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs:
Niel Marais starts at flyhalf, with Sias Ebersohn dropping down to the replacements bench. On the bench, hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld is back after doing duty for Namibia in the Rugby World Cup and replaces Neil Rautenbach in the No 16 jersey. Prop Maks van Dyk is fit and replaces Teunis Nieuwoudt amongst the replacements. Also, Freddy Ngoza makes way for AJ Coertzen on the bench.
Match officials and kick-off times:
Pro Legoete will replace Marius van der Westhuizen as the referee for the ABSA Currie Cup Semifinal on Friday between the Vodacom Blue Bulls and DHL Western Province in Pretoria. Van der Westhuizen was forced to withdraw from the match due to an ankle injury. Jaco van Heerden will referee the Johannesburg match. Both ABSA Currie Cup Semifinals will be televised live on SuperSport 1.
The 2 ABSA Under 19 A-Division Semifinals will be played on Friday, while the ABSA Under 21 A-Division Semifinals will be contested on Saturday.
Vodacom Blue Bulls vs DHL Western Province:
Defending champions DHL Western Province will travel to Pretoria for their ABSA Currie Cup semifinal clash on Friday against the Vodacom Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
The Blue Bulls, who finished 2nd on the Log, will host their 1st Currie Cup Semifinal since 2008.
The clash in Pretoria will mark the 3rd time that the 2 great north vs south rivals meet this season, with a home victory to each team thus far.
Western Province triumphed over their old rivals in last season’s semifinal in Cape town, and the men from Pretoria will be hoping to return the favour this time around.
Western Province eventually went on to lift the coveted Currie Cup trophy in front of their home crowd, after former coach Allister Coetzee’s charges edged the Golden Lions 19 / 16 in the 2014 Final.
Western Province coach John Dobson will be looking at certain areas of the game where they fell short at Loftus Versfeld earlier in the season, especially focusing on the restarts.
“It cost us 18 or 19 points at Loftus and I think about 21 points at Ellis Park,” said Dobson.
“We are having more restarts in some games – considerably more than scrums – we have tweeked our plans a bit this week, in terms of who is receiving and how we are returning it.
The coach also feels that his side didn’t do enough to deserve a home semifinal, however he does feel that they have enough ability to achieve the away victory.
“The Bulls deserves to be hosting the semifinal,” Dobson added.
“It’s tricky because when you get to the pressure side of the playoffs, your natural instinct is to worry about where you at on the field, and that’s the debate they are probably having in Pretoria.
“I can’t tell you which way they are going to go but it’s not quite as cavalier as it was earlier in the season.
“We want to get the ball through the phases and we have to be clever about when and how we kick – if we are going to kick an unstructured kick and hope away, we are going to be under pressure from their back three.
“Our plan will be to try and kick in a structured fashion so that we are able to work really hard on our chasing lines to make sure we are claiming the territory game.”
Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais has named Jacques du Plessis at lock.
Du Plessis was a late withdrawal to the team that edged the Steval Pumas 25 / 24 in Nelspruit last weekend, but he is ready to reclaim his regular No 4 spot in the team.
RG Snyman, who replaced Du Plessis for the Steval Pumas match, moves back to the bench as an impact player, but his replacement in Nelspruit, Jason Jenkins, retains his spot on the bench.
Jenkins will take over from Ruan Steenkamp as the 4th loose forward as Marais opted for more bulk on the bench.
Western Province were boosted by the return of several fit-again regulars.
Fullback Cheslin Kolbe, wing Seabelo Senatla, centre Johnny Kotze, flank Rynhardt Elstadt, lock Ruan Botha and hooker Bongi Mbonambi all return to the starting 15 this week.
The return of the physical Elstadt especially is a major boost for Western Province as he missed the last 4 matches with a thigh problem.
Captain Juan de Jongh will lead the defending champions into battle and will pair up with Johnny Kotze in midfield, with Senatla, Dillyn Leyds and Kolbe forming a dangerous back 3.
Nic Groom and Robert du Preez will start at scrumhalf and flyhalf respectively, with scrumhalf Jano Vermaak back on the bench after missing their last 2 matches with a groin strain.
Prop Oli Kebble has shaken off an ankle injury and will start on the bench, where he is joined by lock Chris van Zyl.
Players to watch:
For Blue Bulls:
Dries Swanepoel has been a revelation this season. He will certainly test the centre combination of Johnny Kotze and Juan de Jongh. Jamba Ulengo has arguably been the best finisher in the competition this season. If the Blue Bulls forwards are able to dominate then Western Province are going to struggle to keep the wing at bay.
For Western Province:
If the Blue Bulls adopt an expansive style of play then it will bring Cheslin Kolbe into the game. He has the ability to make the Blue Bulls pay for any mistakes with his devastatinig runs from deep in his own half. Dillyn Leyds has done very well while covering for Kolbe and the ability of those 2 players to catch the Blue Bulls on the break will be somewhat of a concern for Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais.
Head to head:
Flyhalf Tian Schoeman was sensational for the Bulls in the first half of the season. However he has failed to maintain that momentum and he will be facing another inexperienced youngster in the form of Robert du Preez. The match may very well be decided by which of the two flyhalves are able to show the most composure.
- 2015: Western Province won 29 / 14, Cape Town
- 2015: Blue Bulls won 47 / 29, Pretoria
- 2014: Western Province won 31 / 23, Cape Town (Currie Cup semifinal)
- 2014: Western Province won 23 / 18, Pretoria
- 2014: Western Province won 41 / 17, Cape Town
Vodacom Blue Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (Captain), 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 William Small-Smith.
DHL Western Province: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (Captain), 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Huw Jones.
Date: Friday 16 October
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-Off: 19:00 SA Time (17:00 GMT)
Expected Weather: Partly cloudy with a slight chance of rain, high of 16°C, wind 15 km/h
Referee: Pro Legoete
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry, Quinton Immelman
TMO: Christie du Preez
Xerox Golden Lions vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs:
The unbeaten Xerox Golden Lions will host the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in the 2nd Currie Cup semifinal at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.
The Golden Lions have swept all before them and will have to go through the entire season as the “invincibles” if they wish to lift the coveted Currie Cup.
The Free State Cheetahs have struggled to gain any consistency this season and barely scraped into the semifinals with a last-gasp 34 / 34 draw against the Cell C Sharks last week.
However, the Golden Lions will be wary of complacency when they face a Free State Cheetahs team that have been known to be extremely flamboyant in their play, often by-passing their forwards, in preference of using their backline.
The Free State Cheetahs have made just 1 change to line-up which started against the Cell C Sharks last weekend.
Niel Marais gets the nod at flyhalf ahead of the unconvincing Sias Ebersohn who drops to the bench.
The Golden Lions have rarely looked so dominating through the course of a Currie Cup season and coach Johan Ackermann will be bitterly disappointed if they were to fail to beat the Free State Cheetahs.
“We have a lot of respect for the Cheetahs and for what Franco Smith is doing there – bringing through quite a number of youngsters – and they have quite a few experienced players who are back from injury now,” said Ackermann.
“They are a quality team and the 1 thing we saw over the weekend is that they can fight and will stay in the fight.
“We can’t take anything that we have already achieved into the semifinal because the team that will prevail will be the 1 who handles the pressure on the day, and does the right things at the right time.”
Despite annihilating the Free State Cheetahs 73 / 31 in Bloemfontein a few weeks ago, Ackermann will know that the Golden Lions will have to remain calm and focused when then run out in front of an expectant capacity Emirates Airline Park crowd on Saturday.
“Everything is quite calm at this stage but come later in the week, the excitement will definitely grow,” added Ackermann.
“It’s a normal week of training and preparation but we had a few guys who were a bit ill on Monday but they looked fine on Tuesday, hopefully we will be in better knick come the weekend.”
Players to watch:
For Golden Lions:
Flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff has rediscovered the form that saw him make such a huge impact for the Emirates Lions during the 2014 Super Rugby season. His massive punts up the field has seen his forwards gain front-foot momentum, and has given them countless opportunities to use their rolling maul. Flank Jaco Kriel has arguably been the best loose forward in the competition this season. Kriel and Lock Franco Mostert have been able to break the advantage line at will and they will be key if the they Lions are to overcome the cavalier Free State Cheetahs.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Centre Rayno Benjamin has hit a rich vain of try-scoring form over recent weeks. The veteran utility back will be looking to pounce on any Golden Lions mistakes. Flank Boom Prinsloo is slowly getting his way back to full fitness and has made some very influential plays off the rucks against the Cell C Sharks. He may be the difference for the Free State Cheetahs as they attempt to beat the Golden Lions and achieve what no other team could this season.
Head to head:
The battle at the breakdown will be hotly contested. The Golden Lions have managed to dominate this area against most other teams in the Currie Cup this season. Warren Whiteley, Steph de Witt and captain Jaco Kriel will be hoping to silence the Free State Cheetahs loose trio of Niell Jordaan, Oupa Mohoje and Boom Prinsloo.
- 2015: Golden Lions won 73 / 31, Bloemfontein
- 2014: Golden Lions won 47 / 7, Johannesburg
- 2013: Free State Cheetahs won 26 / 23, Bloemfontein
- 2013: Free State Cheetahs won 30 / 29, Johannesburg
- 2012: Golden Lions won 38 / 23, Bloemfontein
Xerox Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Steph de Witt, 6 Jaco Kriel (Captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Kwagga Smith, 20 Jaco van der Walt, 21 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 22 Sampie Mastriet.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (Captain), 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 BG Uys
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Maks van Dyk, 18 Reniel Hugo, 19 Gerhard Olivier, 20 Ruan van Rensburg, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Adriaan Coertzen.
Date: Saturday 17 October
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Kick-Off: 13:45 SA Time (11:45 GMT)
Expected Weather: Partly cloudy with a slight chance of rain, high of 26°C, wind 16 km/h
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Marius Jonker