With top spot in the SA Conference already secured, the Sharks face a potential banana peel in Bloem as they seek a home semi-final.
With top spot in the South African Conference already secured the Sharks face a potential banana peel in Bloemfontein as they seek a home Super Rugby semi-final.
Jake White is still ruing the home loss to the Stormers just before the June international break that cost his side the number one spot in the overall table. And although the Durbanites have won four times in their last five visits to the Free State Stadium, they will be wary of slipping up again.
Indeed, South African derbies are never forgone conclusions and whilst the Cheetahs have been below-par this season, they certainly possession the necessary tools to upset the pre-season favourites and will fancy their chances of landing a sucker-punch win.
“They have knocked over some good sides (Bulls, Stormers and Brumbies) at home and despite all the Springbok players they have from the weekend, it's not really about the players they have in their roster, they're a good team,” said White.
“We just need to make sure we prepare ourselves properly. We have a good away record, probably better than our home record this year strangely enough, although it's not something we are really concentrating on or giving too much attention to. We just want to make sure we win.”
White has come in for some heavy criticism for 'overplaying' his key forwards – especially his front row – and fatigue was blamed for the shock loss to the Stormers.
With a play-offs spot in the bag, the former Bok coach has the luxury of rotating his squad as the Du Plessis brothers and Willem Alberts are given a desperately-needed break.
While it might be a convenient time – from a league standings point of view – to rest some stars, the fact that the Cheetahs are lining up an all-Springbok front row of their own could well put the Sharks' set-piece under pressure. (Lest we forget the last time Bismarck du Plessis didn't start, the Sharks were thrashed at home by the Highlanders).
Just as significant is the selection of Tim Swiel at fly-half as the Sharks prepare for the imminent return of Pat Lambie, which allows Frans Steyn to return to midfield. Having had a rest after walking out of the Bok camp in a huff, Steyn is one to watch this weekend. Ryno Benjamin had better bring his tackling boots…
White has – and will continue to – come in for criticism for his team's conservative tactics. Only the lowly Lions have scored less tries than the Sharks this season, a stat reminiscent of the Stormers' table-topping campaign of 2012. We all know how that ended. White can only hope that his side can produce a bit more spark than his former assistant Allister Coetzee's outfit did in the latter stages of their failed attempt at the title glory.
But if ever there was a team against which the Sharks could rack up a few tries, it's the Cheetahs. The Free Staters have shipped more points per game (31.9) than any other side in the competition in 2014.
A four-try win must be the Sharks' objective as they look to take a full haul of 10 points from their remaining two games in an effort to finish the league phase first.
Having seen his Brumbies lose the title decider in Hamilton last year, White knows better than anyone the importance of a home final.
“All the pressure will be on the Sharks. They want to secure a home semi-final and need to win their next two games, but we've already seen this year that anything can happen in South African derbies,” said Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske.
“The Sharks' pack is big and physical, so if we want to win, we will need to take them on upfront.”
Form: The Cheetahs have won just three games all season and were thumped 33-0 by the Stormers in their last outing. They have lost four of their seven games on home soil. The Sharks are coming off a shock loss to the Stormers before the June break but have won four of their six away games this season.
2014: Sharks won 19-8 in Durban
2013: Cheetahs won 12-6 in Durban
2013: Sharks won 29-22 in Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 34-15 in Durban
2012: Sharks won 34-20 in Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Cheetahs have the worst defensive record in the competition, while the Sharks have conceded the fewest points. Those stats point to a clear winner. Sharks by ten points.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Caylib Oosthuizen, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel (c), 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Thomas du Toit, 17 Bismarck du Plessis, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Odwa Ndungane, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.
Date: Saturday, July 5
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19:10 (local, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)