Currie Cup - Round 13 Preview
All still to play for in penultimate round
September 30, 2009
Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira returns for Natal Sharks after Tri-Nations duties © Getty Images
Blue Bulls and Griquas meet in a thrilling Round 13 Currie Cup clash on Saturday that will go a long way to determining the make up of the all-important top four. With just two rounds to play, four teams are in contention for the final two play-off places.
The sides are locked on 36 points in third and fourth, with the winner almost guaranteed of gaining enough breathing space ahead of Golden Lions and Free State, wo are poised below.
The Griquas will have to face almost the Bulls' entire Springbok contingent, with wing Bryan Habana returning to a blue shirt for the first time since the end of the Tri-Nations. Victor Matfield skippers the side, with Pierre Spies, Danie Rossouw and Morne Steyn also starting.
Blue Bulls will be without hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle however, who will miss at least two games after suffering a minor fracture in his foot in the 30-27 win over Free State last week. Bandise Maku takes his place on the bench with Derick Kuun starting.
Griquas will be desperate for the points given they face table-toppers Natal Sharks in the final match next weekend. After their 43-3 thrashing from Western Province last round, they will be determined to prove their title credentials over other top four teams in the next two weeks.
The Golden Lions are the best positioned to break into the top four, sitting just three points away on 33. However, they face the top two to round out the season, starting with a daunting trip to Durban to play Natal Sharks on Saturday. The Lions carry momentum into the game having scored 13 tries in last week's dominating win over Boland.
The Lions have made four changes for the fixture, with Earl Rose returning at fullback in place of Alwyn Hollenbach, Michael Killian starting on the wing, Nico Luus slotting in to the second-row and Kevin Buys packing down at tight-head.
The Sharks are taking no chances, reintroducing their Springboks in to the fray following the Tri-Nations. Wing JP Pietersen returns from injury while Ruan Pienaar starts at scrum-half alongside Juan-Martin Hernandez.
There are also starts for Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Ryan Kankowski and Odwa Ndungane. Springbok skipper John Smit is rested and Stefan Terblanche leads the side from fullback.
Sixth-placed Free State Cheetahs are a further three points back on 30, but given they play lowly Leopards and then Boland to finish off the round robin season, they will be confident of picking at least eight more points with a couple of bonus points a distinct possibility too.
Leopards' coach Chaka Willemse continues to tinker with his squad in search of a winning formula, and his side are certainly without No. 8 RW Kember, flanker Thabo Mamojele and lock Ligtoring Landman in the Friday game through injury.
Rounding out the week is Western Province hosting Boland Cavaliers on Saturday in what is expected to be a straight-forward game for the high-flying home side. Western Province will be without Gio Aplon, who will be back in time for the finals from an ankle injury suffered last week. Fijian winger Sireli Naqelevuki will be his likely replacement. Springbok lock Andries Bekker and Australian fly-half Matt Toomua will play, while coach Allister Coetzee is set to give some of his other leading players a rest ahead of the finals.