Preview: Free State v Golden Lions

Date published: September 14 2016

The Free State Cheetahs will want to continue their winning ways when they host the Golden Lions in Bloemfontein on Thursday. 

The Cheetahs are currently five wins from five games and are top of the standings with four points clear of their closest competitors. They are deserved table-leaders after playing intelligent and skillful rugby all competition. Their most recent victory was a telling one when they unseated the Sharks from the lead with a 38-30 win.

Meanwhile, the defending champions currently sit at fifth on the table and will need this away victory to get themselves back in the swing of things with only a few rounds left in the Currie Cup. Their 58-32 pummeling of Western Province in Johannesburg last weekend will give the Lions confidence but the Cheetahs will be a hard nut to crack, especially at home.  

Lions coach Johan Ackermann says they can't be overly confident even after their smashing of Western Province last weekend. 

"We’ve got two away games left and, as we saw when the Sharks went to Cape Town and when Province came to Johannesburg, it’s not easy getting wins away from home," Ackermann told the Business Day.

"It’s a short turnaround week, so we have to reset. We are playing the Cheetahs on Thursday and there’s not too much time to celebrate.

"We have to recover and wait to see what the injury report says and take a team down that is willing to put up a fight. It won’t be easy.

"A good win does give you confidence but we had good wins against the Pumas and Boland but those results didn’t mean anything.

Cheetahs coach Franco Smith says that pressure isn't an issue for his side going into the clash.

"We have been playing under pressure for the whole season. Every game has its own pressure and the more you make of the pressure, the more pressure is there for you," he told Supersport. 

"It is human to do that, but for us we need to learn to perform under pressure. We put enough pressure on ourselves and we cut any other pressure out.

"I won’t say we are the underdogs or they are the favourites and put that unnecessary pressure on us. Even though the players have matured in the past 18 months and they don’t worry about things like that.

"I’m sure the Lions have their objectives and they know we have 24 points on the log and they have 17 – I know they know that. If they want to put pressure on themselves, they are a good team and the pressure normally comes from outside factors than from within. They are a mature coaching staff and they won’t put extra pressure on themselves."

The Golden Lions have made two changes to their side. Andries Ferreira replaces the injured Lourens Erasmus at lock and Cyle Brink comes in for Ruan Ackermann who drops down to the bench in a rotational move. Martin Muller joins the bench as back-up lock and Pieter Scholtz as replacement prop.

The Free State Cheetahs have made a handful of changes to their starting team. Shaun Venter comes in for Tian Meyer at scrum-half and hooker Torsten Van Jaarsveld is named as captain. Elsewhere, William Small-Smith replaces Michael Van der Spuy at number 12 while Niel Marais gets a start over Fred Zeilinga at fly-half. Up front, Justin Basson comes in to the second-row in place of Carl Wegner.

The last time these met: Free State beat the Lions 29-15 and claimed a bonus-point at the Diggers Rugby Club in Johannesburg during the Currie Cup's Qualifying tournament. The Cheetahs were dominant as they scored four tries to two as Jasper Wiese, Joseph Dweba, Maphutha Dolo and Sias Ebersohn all crossed the white-wash. 

Prediction: Despite the Golden Lions' strong performance last week, the Cheetahs should be too much for them. Cheetahs by eight. 

The teams: 

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Tshego Nche
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Fred Zeilinga

Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Selom Gavor, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje (c), 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus 'Kwagga' Smith, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 JP du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Armand 'Akker' van der Merwe, 17 Pieter Scholtz, 18 Martin Muller, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Howard Mnisi.  

Date: Thursday, September 16
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Jaco Kotze
TMO: JJ Wagner