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ABSA Currie CupIt was a weekend of bonus-point victories in the ABSA Currie Cup as all the winning sides, except for the Vodacom Blue Bulls, bagged 5 Log points from their matches to maintain comfortable log positions with an eye on the playoff stages.

In Friday’s matches DHL Western Province defeated the Steval Pumas 37-23 in Nelspruit and the Vodacom Blue Bulls beat the Toyota Free State Cheetahs 31-22 in Bloemfontein. On Saturday the Cell C Sharks thumped the EP Kings 53-24 in Durban and the Xerox Golden Lions registered a convincing 46-8 victory against GWK Griquas in Kimberley.

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Khaya Majola

Khaya Majola

Khaya Majola will start at flank for the Sharks when they host the EP Kings in a Currie Cup clash at Kings Park on Saturday.

Majola, a former SA Under-20 player, takes over the openside role from Jacques Botes, who was ruled out with a SC joint injury. It will be Majola’s first Currie Cup start.

Forwards coach Paul Anthony says they expect a tough game.

“We have to play well and have a good game, we have to man up defensively and we just have to keep winning,” Anthony said via a statement released to the media.

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Currie CupEastern Province Kings:

The captaincy curse has struck the winless Eastern Province Kings again, with another skipper sidelined.

Steven Sykes will join Luke Watson in the sickbay and will not be on duty the against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, according to the Kings medical team.

Sykes will be missing the upcoming game due to a knee injury that he sustained during the loss to the Free State Cheetahs last Saturday.

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ABSA Currie CupAs anticipated, DHL Western Province and the Xerox Golden Lions confirmed their positions at the top of the Absa Currie Cup log with bonus point home wins over the weekend, but they may have reason now to be looking nervously over their shoulders.

The Cell C Sharks have looked woeful for most of the season and until the second half against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs 10 days again, they just weren’t converting their line breaks or stringing phases together.

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Nick Mallett

Nick Mallett

This is what Nick Mallett had to say after yesterday’s Currie Cup matches:

I was surprised, because the Sharks have gone through a couple of difficult weeks, where they lost two and drew one. Going into the game it looked like the Blue Bulls had a bit of momentum. It was a really good performance by the Sharks, it’s never easy to win at Loftus.

It was not just a win, but a good win.

The Blue Bulls are going to really battle to make the semis now.

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Super Rugby TropheeAll of the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks, traditionally South Africa’s strongest franchises in Super Rugby, have reason to feel fairly upbeat about their 2015 ordinary-season schedules.

SANZAR revealed the roster for next season – the last before the competition expands yet again – this week, and at least on paper there seems a better chance of the SA challenge being better than this year’s (only the Sharks made the playoffs, and were losing semi-finalists) as the draw is largely kind to the domestic trio of superpowers.

Jake White’s Sharks were widely considered to have had a dream draw in 2014, given the opportunity it presented for them to build a tidy head of steam on South African soil – including a generous allocation of Kings Park games – before their overseas leg.

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Lwazi Mvovo

Lwazi Mvovo

The loss of Odwa Ndungane last week is off-set by returning Springbok Lwazi Mvovo who has been released from the Springbok squad for the Cell C Sharks’ Currie Cup clash against the Blue Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday (17:05 kick-off).

According to Sharks website editor, Michael Marnewick, he is one of a handful of changes in the backline, where a re-jigged back three and midfield change see plenty of pace introduced.

Paul Jordaan returns after a week’s rest and will partner last week’s debutant Andre Esterhuizen (and a try-scorer on debut) in a potentially very dangerous centre partnership that marries brute strength with pace and acceleration to burn.

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Cell C SharksWhile the result wasn’t exactly what the Cell C Sharks would have liked, or what they worked so hard to achieve, the Currie Cup draw with Free State was certainly an improved performance, according to Sharks’ website editor Michael Marnewick.

“Our play improved quite a lot from the previous week, we certainly created more opportunities to score which means we are playing better rugby,” explains assistant coach Sean Everitt.

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Lwazi Mvovo

Lwazi Mvovo

Following an agreement between the South African Rugby Union (SARU) and the provincial unions, wing Lwazi Mvovo has been released to play in the Currie Cup for the Cell C Sharks this weekend.

Mvovo will train with the Sharks this week and join the Springbok squad in Cape Town on Sunday evening.

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Tera Mtembu

Tera Mtembu: Wants better finishing

Sharks’ captain Tera Mtembu admits that the defending Currie Cup champions have slumped into a “desperate” position in their bid to defend the title.

The Durban-based side drew 30-30 with the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last Saturday and must now win all of their four remaining games if they want to have any chance of reaching the semi-finals.

“I think the word we can use is desperate,” said Mtembu said on Tuesday.

“We’ve slipped into a position now that we have to win every game.

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John Smit

John Smit, swopping the Sharks jersey for a corporate suit.

It has been a year since John Smit swapped the intensity of the rugby field for the pressure of the boardroom.

For the 16 years Smit played in the front-row, headaches were caused by repeated collisions in the scrum.

Now, they are a mental strain as he prepares for his second year as chief executive of the Sharks.

“It’s been an incredible ride for the last 16 months,” Smit told ESPN. “I’ve learnt a huge amount and I have been thrown into the deep end going from the Saracens bench to being in charge of South Africa’s biggest franchise.”

Smit’s involvement in rugby has never been boring.

His career took in spells at the Sharks, Clermont Auvergne and Saracens alongside 111 caps for South Africa, 83 as captain, and three World Cup campaigns.

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Cell C SharksA top Cell C Sharks executive has been suspended amid reports of maladministration at the union after a forensic investigation of its financial affairs.

According to The Mercury, internal procedures are under way between the Sharks and the official, who has been with the franchise for more than 21 years.

News of maladministration at the Sharks surfaced earlier this year when auditing company KPMG was called upon to investigate matters.

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SuperBruRound 3 of the Rugby Championship ended in heartbreak for the Springboks when they went down to Australia by 1 point in the final few minutes of what was not an entertaining match at all.

The referee, the yellow card to Bryan Habana, the failed touchfinder by Morné Steyn and various other reasons have already been dissected and discussed, so we won’t dwell on those.

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Cell C SharksThe Sharks have made five changes to their starting backline for the clash with the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

The defending Currie Cup champions went down to Griquas in Durban last week and coach Brad Macleod-Henderson has responded by making some drastic changes.

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GWK Griquas

Griqua players celebrate their first win of the Currie Cup.

The mini-slump being experienced by the defending champions, the Sharks, is a key feature of the Currie Cup at its midway point in league play.

Two losses on the trot – after a three-match winning start that hadn’t produced much champagne rugby and was already delivering certain warning signs – have left the Durban-based side with an increasingly precarious hold on a “semi-final” slot.

They lie fourth on the overall table and with an awful lot of work to do in the second half of their ordinary-season roster if they are to recover enough ground to challenge for rights to a possible home final – perhaps simply making sure they actually get into the last four must be a shorter-term, lesser objective now.

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SuperBruThis weekend sees the resumption of The Rugby Championship with the All Blacks hosting the Pumas in Napier and the Springboks traveling to Perth to face the Wallabies.

Last weekend we had the Round 4 of the ABSA Currie Cup and there has been some movement at the top of the Rugby-Talk SuperBru group.

The 6 Important games we focus on which are played this weekend, consists of the 2 Rugby Championship Test matches as well as 4 ABSA Currie Cup Premier Division matches.

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Cell C SharksThe Sharks have made a massive six changes to their starting XV for their clash against Griquas this Saturday as coach Brad MacLeod-Henderson reacted strongly to the 32-22 loss to the Pumas last weekend.

Fullback SP Marais, wing Tonderai Chavhanga and props Matt Stevens and Dale Chadwick all make way, along with flank Francois Kleinhans and lock JC Astle, who are injured.

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Jake White

Jake White

The loss of some stalwarts to overseas clubs since the end of the Super Rugby season is making life tough for the young coaches who are going it alone for the first time at the helm of the Cell C Sharks in this Absa Currie Cup season.

Director of rugby Jake White has opted to take a back seat and not have any involvement with the Sharks senior team in the domestic season so that he can focus on the development of the players in the age-group teams as well as give head coach Brad MacLeod-Henderson and his assistants Sean Everitt and Paul Anthony the chance to experience the pressure that comes with being in charge

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Lourens Adriaanse

Lourens Adriaanse

Some introspection, mixed in with analysis and hard work is the theme of this week’s preparations for the Cell C Sharks’ Currie Cup return leg match against Griquas at Kings Park on Saturday (17:05 SA Time kick-off).

Sharks website editor Michael Marnewick reports that the Durbanites were not happy with the result of their match against the Pumas last week, acknowledging that there were aspects of their game they will need to improve on if they hope to do the double against tricky opponents who, like the Pumas this season, love nothing better than to get one over a traditionally “bigger” union.

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S'bura Sithole

S’bura Sithole

Centre S’bura Sithole believes the Sharks must start improving on their basics if they want to bounce back from their first Currie Cup loss of the season over the weekend.

The defending champions suffered a shock 32-22 loss against the Pumas in Nelspruit to drop behind the Mpumalanga side from second to fourth on the Premier Division table after four rounds of the competition.

“I think it’s just our basics and fundamentals that are letting us down,” Sithole said on Tuesday.

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Thomas du Toit

Thomas du Toit

The Cell C Sharks limped back into Durban after their defeat to the Steval Pumas wounded not only psychologically by their Nelspruit ordeal, but also physically.

Star young flank Francois Kleinhans went off early at Mbombela Stadium with a broken wrist, and has been ruled out for the rest of the season.

That is a big blow for the Sharks as they have lost Jean Deysel and Keegan Daniel to Japanese clubs, while Ryan Kankowski is of course also back in Japan.

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Jacques Botes

Jacques Botes

Fortunately for the Cell C Sharks they have a good chance of redeeming themselves when they host struggling GWK Griquas in Durban this coming weekend, but the warning lights are flickering for the Absa Currie Cup champions.

There were excuses aplenty for the Sharks coaches after their 32-22 defeat to the Steval Pumas in Nelspruit in round four, and some of them were legitimate. Injuries did during the course of the game decimate their pack.

And let’s also not take anything away from the Pumas, who have been strong at home this season and also pushed the Sharks in the first round game much more than the final scoreline would suggest.

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Renaldo Bothma

Renaldo Bothma

The Pumas defeated defending Currie Cup champions, the Sharks, 32-22 (half-time 18-9) at Mbombela Stadium on Friday night.

The hosts used their majority possession to score a four-try bonus point victory to move to the second place on the Currie Cup log.

Playing an exciting brand of rugby, the Lowveld-based side demonstrated how to win with an expansive mindset.

The Sharks initially did well to soak up the pressure from a probing Pumas attack by exiting well from their own half using flyhalf Fred Zeilinga’s clearance kicking to great effect.

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Brad Macleod-Henderson & Paul Anthony

Brad Macleod-Henderson & Paul Anthony

John Plumtree coached the Cell C Sharks in six Absa Currie Cup campaigns, and in four of those they topped the log.

They didn’t always convert that advantage. In 2009 they finished top but got bombed by the Cheetahs in a Kings Park semifinal on a day that, Plumtree will probably agree now, he made a mistake by absorbing too many Springboks back into the starting team. The Boks had won a series against the British and Irish Lions that year, as well as the Tri-Nations.

They weren’t in the mood and didn’t have the energy for the Currie Cup.

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Jacques Botes

Personal milestone: Jacques Botes – 150 Currie Cup Caps

Veteran Sharks flank Jacques Botes will break new ground in the Currie Cup on Friday as he extends his appearance record to 150 matches, which will make him the first player to reach this milestone.

Botes will mark this achievement against the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday — the team he first represented in the competition.

He made his provincial debut for the Pumas in 2002 and remained at the union until 2004 before joining the Sharks in 2005. Sharks coach Brad Mcleod-Henderson has handed scrumhalf Conrad Hoffmann his first start, while Springbok lock Stephan Lewies continues his return from injury off the bench.

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Cell C SharksThe Cell C Sharks have stuck largely with the same side that defeated Free State last week for Friday night’s Absa Currie Cup clash with the Pumas at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.

Among the backs, there is just one change where scrumhalf Conrad Hoffmann gets his first start after playing off the bench last week, with Cameron Wright coming off the bench later in the game, reports Sharks website editor Michael Marnewick.

Among the forwards, JC Astle is back from injury and partners with Etienne Oosthuizen in the second row in the absence of Marco Wentzel, while the front row trio of Matt Stevens, Kyle Cooper and Dale Chadwick remains the same from last week as do the loosies, captain Tera Mtembu, Francois Kleinhans and Jacques Botes .

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Sibusiso "S'Bura" Sithole

Sibusiso “S’Bura” Sithole

The Cell C Sharks look likely to be without outside centre S’bura Sithole when they play their return ABSA Currie Cup match against the Steval Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday night.

Sithole has been battling a rib injury and is in doubt for the match. Heimar Williams will replace him if he is not cleared to play. Otherwise the rest of the Sharks players are fit, with there being a possibility that key lineout forward Stephan Lewies will be added to the mix for a starting place this week.

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Character Building

The perfect Christmas gift for the Bokke and Sharks

In a weekend of close calls for Springbok and Sharks fans, the demand for explanations has been met with the cliches of ‘character building’. Surely it is time for coaches to own up?

On Saturday the Sharks took on their bogey team, the Cheetahs – who are accustomed to struggling, but who have been exceeding in delivering poor performances this year.

The Sharks on the other hand are defending champions of the Currie Cup with some of the best structures and facilities money can buy – and they remain unbeaten through three rounds – just.

Three minutes from time the Sharks flyhalf, Fred Zeilinga, kicked a 45-metre penalty to deny the Cheetahs a deserved victory (this after the TMO also stepped in to snatch the win away from the Free Staters).

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Kobus van Wyk

WP flyer, Kobus van Wyk

Surprise, surprise… there are the Sharks and Western Province, back dominating Currie Cup rugby.

Many changes could still happen, of course, given that the 2014 competition is not quite a third of the way through the pre-knockout phase, but it is interesting nevertheless that the two coastal powers have already seized just a hint of a grip.

It will only increase speculation that the pair may be set for a third successive meeting in the final this year, something that has not happened since the Blue Bulls and Cheetahs met in each of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 showpieces.

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Brad Macleod-Henderson

Brad Macleod-Henderson

Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson defended their snatch-and-run victory after they came from behind to oust the Free State Cheetahs on Saturday.

Macleod-Henderson insisted the win in Durban highlighted the character of the defending champions.

A long-range Fred Zeilinga penalty four minutes from time enabled the coastal side to steal a 19-16 triumph at Kings Park.

“All victories come down to what the scoreboard says… We managed to win that battle,” Macleod-Henderson said.

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