Tournament table-toppers Western Province face a daunting task when they take on the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday.
WP have a four-point lead at the top of the standings but know that challenging the Pumas in their own backyard is one of the toughest assignments in this year’s competition.
Under the guidance of coach Jimmy Stonehouse the newly-promoted Pumas have made life difficult for more-fancied teams visiting Nelspruit and they are yet to lose a match at their home ground.
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee is under no illusions about the enormity of the task awaiting his charges against the Pumas in Nelspruit.
“They’re unbeaten at the Mbombela Stadium this season, so it will be a tough challenge for us but one we’re looking forward to,” he said.
“The challenge is to win away from home in the Absa Currie Cup – especially after slipping up in Johannesburg two weeks ago – and we need to show the same kind of intensity and accuracy that we showed in the first half against Griquas, but for 80-plus minutes.”
WP suffered their first defeat against the Golden Lions in Johannesburg two weeks ago but bounced back with a 36-12 victory over Griquas last weekend.
Despite their unblemished record in Nelspruit, the Pumas are on a two-match losing streak after away defeats to Griquas and the Golden Lions.
Their coach Jimmy Stonehouse is quietly confident of handing the Cape Town-based outfit only their second defeat of the season.
“Each player knows what awaits us, and we’ve really done well so far,” Stonehouse said at the team announcement on Tuesday.
“If we want a semi-final spot we have to win this match, and although it is Western Province, we are lucky it is at home.”
Stonehouse made seven changes to the side that went down 29-15 to the Golden Lions over the weekend.
Three changes were made to the pack, with hooker Frankie Herne earning a starting berth in place of Francois du Toit.
Openside flanker Uzair Cassiem shifts to the bench, with Jaco Bouwer selected in the run-on side, while lock Marius Coetzer will replace Frikkie Spies.
In the back-line, Reynier van Rooyen will once again rotate with Dylon Frylinck, who moves to the bench.
JC Roos has been given the number-10 jersey, with Justin van Staden named as a replacement.
Ruwellyn Isbell replaces Jerome Pretorius on the wing, while JW Bell has been named at fullback at the expense of Coenie van Wyk.
The Pumas were still sweating over the availability of inspirational number eight Renaldo Bothma, who needs to pass a late fitness test on Thursday.
Prediction: Although the Pumas have been in superb form at home, WP’s experience will carry them to victory.
It will be close but WP to win by four points!
Pumas: 15 JW Bell, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 JC Roos, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Renaldo Bothma/RW Kember, 7 Jaco Bouwer, 6 Corne Steenkamp (c), 5 Giant Mtyanda, 4 Marius Coetzer, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 DeJay Terblanche, 18 Uzair Cassiem, 19 RW Kember/Doppies le Roux, 20 Dylon Frylinck, 21 Justin van Staden, 22 Jerome Pretorius.
Western Province: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Justin Geduld, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Manuel Carizza, 19 Rohan Kitshoff, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Date: Friday, September 26
Kick-off: 19:00 local (18:00 BST, 17:00 GMT)
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Christie du Preez, Stefan Breytenbach