The pressure on the four Currie Cup Premier Division semi-finalists – the Cell C Sharks, DHL Western Province, Xerox Golden Lions and Vodacom Blue Bulls – will reach boiling point on Saturday as they go head-to-head in their biggest match of the season for a place in the Final.
The Cell C Sharks, who finished the pool stages as the top team, will take on 2016 runners up, the Vodacom Blue Bulls, at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban at 14h30, while DHL Western Province will host the Xerox Golden Lions at DHL Newlands in Cape Town at 17h00.
The clash in Durban is the KwaZulu-Natalians’ first appearance in a Currie Cup knock-out match since 2014. It’s also the first time the Cell C Sharks and Vodacom Blue Bulls meet in the semi-final in five seasons.
Fuelling the hosts’ motivation, they won both encounters between the sides in the pool stages, while they have only gone down once against the Pretoria outfit at home in the competition in more than a decade – since 2006.
The visitors, meanwhile, will draw inspiration from the fact that the Cell C Sharks’ winning margins against them in the competition were by only eight and 13 points respectively, while most of their defeats in Durban have also been by less than 10 points. Adding to this, they have been fighting for their survival in their competition for several weeks, and will be up for the challenge.The Cell C Sharks made three personnel changes to their starting team – flanker Jean-Luc du Preez, scrumhalf Louis Schreuder and winger Kobus van Wyk replace Jacques Vermeulen, Michael Claassens and Odwa Ndungane respectively, all three of whom were included on the replacements bench alongside Akker van der Merwe.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls named the same starting team that defeated the Steval Pumas to book their place in the semi-final. However, lock Aston Fortuin faces a late fitness test after picking up an injury last week. Should he be ruled out, Jannes Kirsten will start at lock with Eli Snyman on the bench, but should Fortuin be passed fit, Kirsten will start on the bench.
In Cape Town, the clash between DHL Western Province and the Xerox Golden Lions will mark the sixth time the teams meet in the play-off stages since 2011 – two of which were in the Currie Cup finals of 2015 and 2014, with each of the teams winning one.
The results were similar in the pool stages this season with the Capetonians winning the clash at DHL Newlands 39-3, while the Gauteng side won the return match at Emirates Airline Park by 29-20.
The hosts have a good track record against the Xerox Golden Lions in Cape Town with their last home defeat in the competition being in 2012, but the Johannesburg team come off two wins a row, and they will want to build on this as they stake a claim for a place in the final.
DHL Western Province made one change to their pack and three positional switches among their backs, with flanker Kobus van Dyk earning a start, while Dillyn Leyds moves from wing to fullback, with Ruhan Nel taking his place out wide and EW Viljoen returning to the midfield next to Huw Jones.
The Xerox Golden Lions in turn made only two personnel changes to their run-on team with Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx and prop Ruan Dreyer being included in the front row alongside prop and captain Jacques van Rooyen.
In a special treat for fans at DHL Newlands, competition partners DirectAxis will again capture supporters at on the FANCAM, which will enable them to find and tag themselves on an interactive 360o image and share it on their social media accounts. Fans who register on www.directaxis.fancam.com before the game will be notified when the image goes live. A virtual Currie Cup trophy will also be hidden on the image, and those who find it stand a chance to win a VIP trip to the Currie Cup final.
Currie Cup semi-final fixtures (Saturday, 21 October):
Cell C Sharks v Vodacom Blue Bulls
Cell C Sharks – Garth April, Kobus van Wyk, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw, S’busiso Nkosi, Curwin Bosch, Louis Schreuder, Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Keegan Daniel, Ruan Botha (captain), Tyler Paul, Ross Geldenhuys, Franco Marais, Thomas du Toit. Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Juan Schoeman, John-Hubert Meyer, Jean Droste, Jacques Vermeulen, Michael Claassens, Tristan Blewett, Odwa Ndungane.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Burger Odendaal (captain), JT Jackson, Johnny Kotze, Marnitz Boshoff, Ivan van Zyl, Nic de Jager, Tim Agaba, Marco van Staden, Aston Fortuin / Jannes Kirsten, Ruben van Heerden, Conraad van Vuuren, Edgar Marutlulle, Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Johan Grobbelaar, Lizo Gqoboka, Kirsten / Eli Snyman, Jano Venter, Piet van Zyl, Tony Jantjies, Duncan Matthews, John-Roy Jenkinson.
Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry & Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Christie du Preez
DHL Western Province v Xerox Golden Lions
DHL Western Province – Dillyn Leyds, Seabelo Senatla, EW Viljoen, Huw Jones, Ruhan Nel, Robert du Preez, Dewaldt Duvenage, Nizaam Carr, Kobus van Dyk, Jaco Coetzee, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl (captain), Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements: Ramone Samuels, Ali Vermaak, Frans van Wyk, Jan de Klerk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Jano Vermaak, Werner Kok, Damian Willemse.
Xerox Golden Lions – Andries Coetzee, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco van der Walt, Ross Cronje, Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink, Len Massyn, Marvin Orie, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen (captain). Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Dylan Smith, Jacobie Adriaanse, Rhyno Herbst, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Sylvian Mahuza, Ashlon Davids, Robert Kruger.
Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs & Archie Sehlako
TMO: Shaun Veldsman