WP wade into Sharks' waters in top-of-the-table clash
SOMETHING has to give in Durban when the Sharks meet Western Province in the pick of weekend's Currie Cup action as the two pace-setters attempt to gain an advantage in this year's truncated tournament.
The Sharks won the first-round fixture at Newlands, just two weeks after the Super 15 side beat the Stormers at the same venue in a semifinal. Those memories should give the Sharks a mental edge for this encounter.
The Sharks suffered a shock loss to Griquas in Kimberley last week, and, as a consequence, coach John Plumtree has shuffled the personnel.
Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who was superb against WP earlier in the season, starts in place of Charl McLeod in a move that has raised some eyebrows. Reinach is a lively, nuggety halfback who, like his direct opponent Nic Groom, enjoys attacking the fringes of rucks. Their duel should be one of the highlights of the encounter.
Keegan Daniel, discarded by the Boks, has been reinstated as Sharks skipper for the rest of the campaign, which is a clear sign that national coach Heyneke Meyer won't recall him for the home leg of the Four Nations.
It's a personal blow for Daniel but a boost for the Sharks as he brings massive experience and vision to the position.
Another man who brings experience is former Stormers and Bath hooker Pieter Dixon, who, at the age of 34, will make his first Currie Cup start for the Sharks.
WP have lost tighthead Frans Malherbe to the Springboks and flank Rynhardt Elstadt to injury, with Tom Botha and Tyrone Holmes replacing them. WP have been excellent in the past two weeks, but the Sharks have been formidable at home this season and it's difficult to imagine that a youthful WP team can beat them in Durban.
The Golden Lions, who also have 15 points in the standings, could keep pressure on both the Sharks and WP with a victory over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Veteran flank Hendro Scholtz will start for the Cheetahs after returning against WP last week, but it will be openside Heinrich Brussow's influence at the breakdown that could have the biggest bearing on the result. The world-class poacher was near his best against WP last week.
In Kimberley, Griquas and the Blue Bulls - currently fifth and sixth - will battle it out to stay off the bottom of the log.
The home team have won their last two matches while the Bulls have lost their last two. Bulls coach Pine Pienaar last week stated that his team needs to win its next five matches to have any chance of reaching the semifinals.