Currie Cup - Round 5 Preview
Hernandez all set for Sharks debut
August 5, 2009
Juan Martin Hernandez makes his Currie Cup debut for the Sharks this weekend © Getty Images
In round five of the Currie Cup, Juan Martin Hernandez will make his long-awaited debut for the Sharks against the Leopards.
First though, the table-topping Griquas welcome Western Province to the rock hard Kimberley pitch on Friday in what will likely be a titanic battle up front.
Griquas have surprised everybody but themselves with their form this season and four consecutive wins has put Dawie Theron's team well on the road to securing a semi-final berth in the competition's final shake-up. They reiterated that their start to the season was no fluke when they travelled to Johannesburg last week and beat the Lions.
A visit to Kimberley is always regarded as one of the toughest days out for a South African rugby player and with the game now being moved from early evening to mid-afternoon on Friday to accommodate the broadcast hosts, the players know that a stern test of their ability and their bodies is in store.
The match sees the Cup's sharpest shooters in Willem de Waal and WP old boy Naas Olivier go head-to-head. De Waal is partnered by the exciting young Dewaldt Duvenage, who returns from injury at scrum-half.
It's up front though where this battle is going to be settled and despite recent years of questions surrounding the WP pack, this season thus far they seemed to have remedied those woes.
Luke Watson retains his captaincy of the side, fresh from scoring three tries against the Leopards last week and getting married as well. Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw make up the balance of the loose-trio. Chris Jack returns in the second-row to partner Anton van Zyl while in the front row the impressive Wicus Blaauw returns at loose-head for JD Moller.
Griquas will be relying once again on the kicking prowess of Olivier and with the altitude coming into play any mistakes, even within the opposition half could well be punished.
It's been a dreadful start for the Free State Cheetahs and their coach Naka Drotské, losing all four of their games thus far this season.
And it certainly doesn't get any easier as perennial Currie Cup favourites the Blue Bulls visit Bloemfontein on Friday night.
The Cheetahs have now lost their captain, Hendro Scholtz, to injury and in his absence the side will be led by the Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss. The former Blue Bull JP Joubert starts ahead of Tertius Carse at scrum-half and his knowledge of the bruising way in which the men from Pretoria play the game should aid his floundering team.
Johan Wessels has been laid low by illness but is expected to recover in time to take Scholtz's place on the flank.
The Bulls' head coach Frans Ludeke has included included Deon Stegmann as well as Pedrie Wannenburg for the match. Stegmann starts on the openside while Wannenburg plays at No. 8 with Jacques Burger completing the back-row.
His backline remains unchanged from the one that put on 50 points against Boland last week and they'll be looking to consolidate their second spot on the log with a win while also condemning the Cheetahs to their fifth consecutive loss.
The Lions travel to Wellington to tackle Boland on Friday still smarting from their home loss to Griquas last week and coach Hans Coetzee has reacted by making changes - mainly to the backline.
Jano Vermaak, who was concussed during their 40-19 win over the Leopards and missed last week's loss, returns as one of four alterations to the backline. Ruan Boshoff will partner Vermaak in the halfbacks and Herkie Kruger shifts out of the 22. Doppies la Grange starts in the No. 12 jersey while Shandre Frolick returns on the wing.
Boland are yet to name their side but are always tough to beat at home and could quite easily provide a surprise by toppling the Lions.
John Plumtree has finally relented and will give Sharks and South African rugby fans their first glimpse of their marquee signing Hernandez as he lines up at flyhalf in Rustenburg against the Leopards.
The former Stade Francais talisman and Argentina international arrived in the country last week but has been given time to improve on his conditioning ahead of his Sharks debut.
Plumtree has made seven changes for their game against the last-placed Sharks.
Hernandez will start alongside Charl McLeod while Chris Jordaan comes onto the wing for Odwa Ndungane. Keegan Daniel starts ahead of Jacques Botes while Plumtree has also opted to completely re-jig his front row. Pat Cilliers moves to loosehead, Wiehahn Herbst starts at tighthead while Skipper Badenhorst starts in the hooking berth.
Chaka Williamson's Leopards side remain bottom of the table but will be confident at home against a Sharks side showing seven changes. Their team is yet to be confirmed.