The management teams of both the Cheetahs and Golden Lions have implemented a plethora of changes ahead of the their Currie Cup fixture in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The clash between these two great unions is always one of the most highly anticipated of the season – primarily because both teams are from the Highveld but also because of the difficult relationship they once had, during the days of the Cats. The rivalry is intense. A considerable amount has changed in the recent past and the balance of power between the two unions has shifted regularly too.
The Lions currently have the momentum.
They produced an emphatic 47-7 victory against the old foe during their last Currie Cup meeting in 2014 and have emerged completely unscathed after the first seven rounds of the 2015 Currie Cup season. They are well entrenched at the top of the standings.
The visitors have stability and have already negotiated the most difficult part of their transition.
The Cheetahs are currently fourth in the Currie Cup standings, having accumulated just three victories in the seven matches they have played. They are currently managing a difficult period of change, with Franco Smith at the helm for the first time.
The priorities for both teams are clearly different ahead of this weekend's fixture. The Cheetahs are trying to find a system that works and the Lions are trying to entrench their status as the foremost union in the Currie Cup. So, the changes to both squads also mean different things.
Team News: Springbok forward Warren Whiteley returns to the Lions pack, where he will start at number eight, bolstering what is already a formidable forward unit. In the spirit of consistency, Jaco Kriel will continue as captain this weekend. Steph de Wit makes his way into the starting line-up, with Kwagga Smith being relegated to the bench, while Jacques van Rooyen will link up with the front-row, at the expense of Ruan Dreyer. The Lions backline, which has been the envy of many, will remain unchanged for the Catfight.
The Cheetahs have had problems throughout their campaign and one of them has been at pivot. Former Sharks fly-half Fred Zeilinga has been relegated to the bench this week and prodigal son Sias Ebersohn will start at 10, following the return from his adventures across the Indian Ocean. It is often said there is nothing quite like the exuberance of youth and coach Smith has clearly bought into that philosophy, after he included 2014 Junior Springbok Zee Mkhabela at scrum-half for this weekend.
So, it is a new half-back pairing for the Cheetahs. However, those are not the only changes. Tertius Kruger will start at inside centre this week, replacing Ryno Benjamin. Niell Jordaan moves to seven, while Gerhard Olivier will start at the back of the scrum. Freddy Ngoza joins the matchday squad, after Armand Koster was ruled out of the fray.
Prediction: Common sense should prevail this weekend. The Lions have the more talented team, the more cohesive team and the more confident team. The visiting team will win this match by a significant margin.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Zee Mkhabela, 8 Gerhard Olivier, 7 Niell Jordaan, 6 Vincent Jobo, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Freddy Ngoza, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Teunis Nieuwoudt.
Replacements: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 BG Uys, 18 Willem Serfontein, 19 De Wet Kruger, 20 Rayno Benjamin, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Fred Zeilinga.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnal Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Steph de Wit, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Mark Pretorius, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Albertus Smith, 20 Jako van der Walt, 21 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 22 Anthony Volmink.
Date: Saturday, 26 September
Venue: Free State Rugby Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 13:15 local (11:15 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Sindile Ngcese, Francois Pretorius
Television match official: JJ Wagner