CAPE TOWN – The heat is on in the Currie Cup Premier Division as three teams reach the halfway mark in the pool stages, which is expected to spice up the competition.
The action gets underway in Nelspruit on Friday, when the Pumas will go in search of only their third Currie Cup victory in 21 years against Western Province. Both sides kicked the competition off with high-scoring bonus-point victories, which makes this a top-of-the-table clash. And with only four pool games remaining for them following this round, there will be no love lost.
Western Province made four personnel changes for the clash, with Springboks Damian de Allende and Wilco Louw, as well as Sergeal Petersen and former Junior Springbok captain Ernst van Rhyn and earn starts.
Pumas prop Khwezi Mona will earn his 50th cap for the team after being named in an unchanged starting line-up. Jimmy Stonehouse’s bench shows two changes as Hilton Lobberts and Nardus van der Walt were drafted in.
The Free State Cheetahs will be determined to make the most of their home ground advantage on Saturday after suffering defeats in their last two matches, which has left them at the foot of the log without a point. With the Sharks coming off a bonus-point win, and the Durbanites’ having won the last three outings between the sides, the hosts will be tested mentally and physically.
The Free State Cheetahs made wholesale changes to their side with their PRO14 team also in action, which sees only three players retain their places in the starting team, namely Dennis Visser (lock), Gunther Janse van Vuuren (prop) and Louis Fouche (flyhalf). The Sharks, in turn, named an unchanged team.
In the Gauteng derby, the Blue Bulls will be hunting their first win against the Golden Lions since 2015 when the sides meet at Loftus Versfeld.
The Johannesburg outfit registered a convincing win in their opening game last week, while the Blue Bulls were unable to build on their winning start to the competition against the Sharks last week. That result and the fact that they have only won one of their last four home games against their neighbours is expected to fuel their motivation going into the clash.
The Blue Bulls made four personnel changes, with Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane making his first Currie Cup appearance among three changes up-front, while the only backline change sees JT Jackson returning to midfield.
The Golden Lions also made minor changes, with lock Marvin Orie taking over the captaincy from Ross Cronje, who is replaced by Dillon Smit, while Howard Minisi and Lionel Mapoe will form a new centre pairing.
Fans at Loftus Versfeld will be able to find and tag themselves on an interactive 360o FANCAM image, compliments of DirectAxis Financial Services, to be shared on social media by registering on directaxis.fancam.com. 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 First Division
In the Currie Cup First Division defending champions, the Griffons, will look to build on their success last season when they take to the field in their opening match, while the other five teams will target momentum after kicking off their campaigns last week.
The Border Bulldogs and SWD Eagles will kick off the action at the BCM Stadium in East London on Friday, with the Leopards and Boland Cavaliers taking to the field in Potchefstroom later that evening, while the Griffons will host the Valke in Welkom on Saturday.
In East London, Border and SWD will both be hunting their first wins of the season after going down in their opening matches, but the hosts will have to step up their defence significantly to achieve this after leaking more than 60 points last week.
The situation will be vastly different for the Boland Cavaliers and 2017 finalists, the Leopards, in Potchefstroom, as one of them could suffer their first defeat of the season. The Western Cape outfit were in top form last week scoring 70 points and leaking only 12, while the Leopards come off a narrow two-point victory, which means their defence will have to be solid to continue their winning ways.
The Griffons will have to hit the ground running against the Valke in Welkom after the men from Kempton Park racked up an impressive score of 66 points last week, which will boost their confidence going into the clash.
The hosts, however, have won the last three encounters between the sides, which sets the scene for an exciting match.
Currie Cup Premier Division Round 3 fixtures:
iCollege Pumas v DHL Western Province
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Des van Wyk and Alex Jonker
TMO: Christie du Preez
Toyota Free State Cheetahs v Cell C Sharks
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse and Divan Uys
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
Blue Bulls v Golden Lions
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Referees: Jaco Pretorius and Ricus van der Hoven
TMO: Willie Vos
Currie Cup First Division Round 2:
Leopards v Boland Cavaliers
Venue: Fanie du Toit Sportfields, Potchefstroom
Referee: Ruhan Meiring
Assistant Referees: Jaco Pretorius and local appointment
Border Bulldogs v SWD Eagles
Venue: BCM Stadium, East London
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Referees: Bulelani Naka and local appointment
Griffons v Valke
Venue: HT Pelatona Projects Stadium, Welkom
Referee: Egon Seconds
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs and local appointment
African News Agency (ANA)