The Free State Cheetahs have a chance to go clear at the top of the Currie Cup standings when they face the Sharks at Kings Park on Saturday.
This weekend sees the top two sides in this year's competition clash in Durban in what promises to be a tightly contested, entertaining brawl. While the Sharks are currently top of the standings with 20 points, they have played one game more than the Cheetahs who are hot on their heels with 19 points after four games.
The men from Bloemfontein are also still the only unbeaten team in the tournament but they have a battle on their hands if they want to keep it that way going into the business end of the competition.
The Sharks have made just one change to their starting XV with Stephan Lewies replacing Ruan Botha at lock. Otherwise, all other changes are on the bench with Michael Claassens being bracketed with Hanco Venter, Botha bracketed with Jean Droste and Jean Deysel bracketed with Francois Kleinhans as the former players are all carrying niggles and will undergo late fitness tests to determine their availability.
Sharks head coach Robert du Preez says they are aiming to limit their error count as he believes errors is what led to their loss last weekend.
“We’ve had a good training week and are determined to rectify our mistakes from our previous weekend’s performance. We have spoken this week about respecting the ball, cutting down our error rate and being more patient with ball in hand."
The Sharks boss also lauded the Cheetahs for the progressive rugby they’ve played this season.
“Free State are playing good rugby at the moment and we will definitely need to show great intensity and intent on Saturday,” he added.
Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith has also made just one change to his starting XV, Niell Jordaan moving to the bench with Henco Venter starting in the number eight jersey. With original skipper Francois Venter still injured, scrum-half Tian Venter retains the captaincy.
The last time these teams met: The Cheetahs won 19-13 in the Currie Cup qualifiersback in May, winger Jean Pierre Coetzee scoring two tries in the second half to secure a hard fought victory.
Prediction: This could turn out to be the game of the season which makes it very tough to call. We're playing it safe and backing the home side to edge it by 3-6 points.
The Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S’bura Sithole, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Ruan Botha/Jean Droste, 19 Jean Deysel/Francois Kleinhans, 20 Michael Claassens/Hanco Venter, 21 Wandile Mjekevu, 22 Rhyno Smith
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Justin Basson, 19 Niell Jordaan, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Niel Marais, 22 Michael van der Spuy
Date: Saturday, September 10
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Time: 17:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)