With log leaders, the Vodacom Bulls, enjoying a bye, DHL Western Province will have the opportunity to leap into the No 1 spot on the standings if they defeat defending champions, the Toyota Cheetahs, in Bloemfontein at 16h30.
They will, however, face an epic battle as the Free Staters are fighting for playoff survival.
While a victory would keep the Toyota Cheetahs in the race to possibly defend their title, a defeat could dash their hopes of reaching the semi-finals, depending on the other results.
The Phakisa Pumas and Xerox Lions will kick off the action in Nelspruit at 14h00 on Saturday in a match the men from Johannesburg will be determined to win to remain in the top four, while clash between the Cell C Sharks and Tafel Lager Griquas will play out simultaneously with the Bloemfontein battle at 16h30.
The matches between the Phakisa Pumas and Xerox Lions, and Toyota Cheetahs v DHL Western Province will be broadcast live on the SuperSport Grandstand and Rugby channels (201 and 211), while the clash between the Cell C Sharks and Tafel Lager Griquas will play out on SuperSport’s Action channel (210).
The rescheduled clash between the Vodacom Bulls and Xerox Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday, 6 January, meanwhile, will kick off at 16h00.
Xerox Lions look to extend winning run
The Xerox Lions have been on a high in the Carling Currie Cup, winning all four of their matches so far, and with the semi-finals in sight, they will be determined to keep that track record intact in Nelspruit.
This clash will mark the first time the sides meet this season after their Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked match was cancelled due to COVID-19 protocols, however, they will be wary of the Lowvelders who tested some of the top teams at stages this season.
The Phakisa Pumas have only defeated the Xerox Lions once in the Carling Currie Cup since 2011, however, they went down to the Johannesburgers by only one point last season, which is sure to inspire them going into Saturday’s game.
Phakisa Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse made seven changes to his matchday squad – three changes to the starting team and four on the bench as they look to create an upset in the closing rounds of the pool stages.
Two of the changes in the starting XV were amongst the backs, where Ali Mgijima replaces Wayne van der Bank at inside centre, and Ginter Smuts takes over from Chriswill September in a rotational switch at scrumhalf, which sees the latter being named among the replacements.
The only change in the forward pack was in the second row, where Darrien Landsberg replaces the injured Le Roux Roets.
Experienced prop Wiehahn Herbst will make his Carling Currie Cup debut for the Xerox Lions in one of two changes to the Jozi team.
The Klerksdorp-born prop, who has represented the Cell C Sharks, Vodacom Bulls and Irish giants Ulster, joined the Johannesburg outfit during lockdown in July.
Herbst takes over from another veteran, Jannie du Plessis, in the front row. The other change to coach Ivan van Rooyen’s starting team was at flank where Vincent Tshituka comes in for Wilhelm van der Sluys.
Phakisa Pumas – 15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Luther Obi, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Ali Mgijima, 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Devon Williams, 9 Ginter Smuts, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Phumzile Maqondwana, 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren (captain), 4 Darrien Landsberg, 3 Ignatius Prinsloo, 2 Simon Westraadt, 1 Morgan Naude. Replacements: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Eduan Swart, 18 Brandon Valentyn, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Chriswill September, 21 Tiaan Botes, 22 Alwayno Visagie, 23 Wayne van der Bank.
Xerox Lions – 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 André Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Dylan Smith. Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Carlü Sadie, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 21 Morné van den Berg, 22 Manuel Rass, 23 Marnus Schoeman.
Match Information – Phakisa Pumas v Xerox Lions
Date: Saturday, 2 January 2021
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Referees: Paul Mente and Morne Ferreira
TMO: Johan Greeff
TV: SuperSport Grandstand and Rugby
Cell C Sharks have a point to prove at home
The Cell C Sharks – who are currently in fourth place on the table – will have a point to prove when they host Tafel Lager Griquas in Durban.
The KwaZulu-Natalians come off back-to-back defeats and face the risk of dropping out of the top four if they suffer yet another loss and the Toyota Cheetahs topple DHL Western Province.
They will also be mindful of the fact that that they scraped through by one point in their last encounter against the men from Kimberley for a 34-33 victory in November, while they went down 37-13 against the visitors at Jonsson Kings Park in the competition last year.
The exciting Aphelele Fassi will start at fullback in one of five personnel changes to the Cell C Sharks team, with the other four changes being among the forwards where Fezokhule Mbatha (hooker), Michael Kumbirai (tighthead prop), JJ van der Mescht (lock) and Thembelani Bholi (loose forward) will all earn starts.
“It’s going to be a physical battle against Griquas – as always,” said Cell C Sharks head coach Sean Everitt.
“We’ve set ourselves goals and high standards and I expect our team to bounce back and do well this weekend.”
Tafel Lager Griquas have opted for continuity in selection, with the only change to coach Scott Mathie’s team being the inclusion of former Vodacom Bulls and Toyota Cheetahs utility forward Ewan Coetzee at lock in what marks his first start. He replaces Adre Smith, who has been named among the replacements.
Replacement hooker CJ Conradie, meanwhile, will make his debut if he takes the field.
Cell C Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 JJ van der Mescht, 3 Michael Kumbirai, 2 Fezokuhle Mbatha, 1 Ox Nche. Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Khwezi Mona, 18 Hanru Jacobs, 19 Aston Fortuin, 20 Dylan Richardson, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Anthony Volmink.
Tafel Lager Griquas – 15 James Verity-Amm, 14 Eduan Keyter, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Enver Brandt, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Zak Burger (captain), 8 Johan Momsen, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Cameron Lindsay, 4 Ewan Coetzee, 3 John-Roy Jenkinson, 2 Alandre van Rooyen, 1 Andrew Beerwinkel. Replacements (from): 16 CJ Conradie, 17 Mox Mxoli, 18 Tijde Visser, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Siba Qoma, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Johnathan Francke, 23 Daniel Kasende, 24 Bandisa Ndlovu, 25 Raegan Oranje.
Match Information – Cell C Sharks v Tafel Lager Griquas
Date: Saturday, 2 January 2021
Venue: Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron and Divan Uys
TMO: Marius Jonker
TV: SuperSport Action
Epic showdown expected in Bloemfontein
Both the Toyota Cheetahs and DHL Western Province will be hunting their third victory in a row when they cross paths in Bloemfontein, and given the high stakes for either team, it the match is expected to be gripping.
The Capetonians won their last match-up 30-13 in November in at Newlands, but with the pressure for semi-final places and favourable log positions for a possible home semi-final at boiling point in the Carling Currie Cup, neither team will give an inch.
The Free Staters have won four of the last six Carling Currie Cup matches between the teams, with three of those wins being in Bloemfontein.
Toyota Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie made two changes to his starting team for the clash with Rhyno Smith starting on the right wing in place of the injured William Small-Smith, and upfront Wilmar Arnoldi (hooker) is back from an injury and takes over from Marnus van der Merwe, who in turn moves to the replacements bench.
David Meihuizen will start at lock in the only change to the DHL Western Province team, joining JD Schickerling in the second row, while Jaco Coetzee – a late replacement for Springbok captain Siya Kolisi last weekend – retains the No 6 jersey.
“The continuity in selection this week will hopefully help us to build some momentum and play with some fluency,” said DHL Western Province head coach John Dobson.
“We know that it will take an 80-minute performance in Bloemfontein this weekend if we are to come away with the result that we are looking for.”
Toyota Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Reinhardt Fortuin, 9 Ruben de Haas, 8 Jeandré Rudolph, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner (capt), 3 Khutha Mchunu, 2 Wilmar Arnoldi, 1 Boan Venter. Replacements: 16 Marnus van der Merwe, 17 Erich de Jager, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Victor Sekekete, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 George Cronje, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Tian Meyer.
DHL Western Province – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Angelo Davids, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 David Meihuizen, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain). Replacements (from): 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Ruhan Nel, 23 Tristan Leyds, 24 Leon Lyons, 25 Chad Solomon, 26 Ben-Jason Dixon.
Match Information – Toyota Cheetahs v DHL Western Province
Date: Saturday, 2 January 2021
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant Referees: Griffin Colby and Egon Seconds
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen
TV: SuperSport Grandstand and Rugby