Lions look to cement their spot at the top
AILING Western Province have been further hurt by the loss of No8 Duane Vermeulen and centre Juan de Jongh to the Springboks - just days before the Blue Bulls arrive at Newlands for a crunch Currie Cup encounter tomorrow.
This might be more like a watered down north-south derby, given how many Springboks are unavailable. But in the context of this short competition, it is a significant encounter.
Western Province have already lost two of their opening three matches, and another slip-up would leave them losing touch with the top two and perhaps even the top four.
Coach Allister Coetzee has made seven changes to the starting XV following last week's 26-23 loss to the Golden Lions, whereas Bulls coach Pine Pienaar has made three changes from the team that beat the Sharks.
Discarded Bok JJ Engelbrecht will make his first appearance at Currie Cup level for the Blue Bulls at wing, flank Warwick Tecklenburg comes in for the injured Arno Botha on the bench, whereas Clayton Blommetjies moves from wing to fullback in place of Jurgen Visser.
Western Province are so thin in the loose forward position that they have reinstated hooker Deon Fourie at openside flank. The promising Skarra Ntubeni will start at hooker.
The Bulls are fourth in the standings with eight points, two clear of Western Province and one adrift of the Free State Cheetahs, the Sharks and the Golden Lions, who are all locked on nine.
Tonight, the Golden Lions have a good chance to consolidate their position at the top of the standings when they meet the winless Griquas at Ellis Park.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies will again lead the line, even though there is a strong feeling he should have been with the Boks this week.
In tandem with inside centre Butch James, the Lions have two of the most effective inside backs in the country at any level. And with a pack that gives them a solid platform, it is impossible to see how the Griquas can come away with their first win of the season.
In tomorrow's other big match, the Sharks host the Cheetahs in Durban. The Cheetahs have lost flyhalf Johan Goosen to the Boks, so Sias Ebersohn will start in the No10 jersey in a move that hardly weakens the side.
The Sharks, after beating both Western Province and the Lions in their opening two weeks, came horribly unstuck against the Bulls at Loftus last weekend. But back at home, they will be difficult to topple, while the return of No8 Keegan Daniel from the Boks will also be a boost to the pack.