The Lions and the Sharks have it all to play for when the two rivals meet in one of three South African derbies in Durban in the final round of regular Super Rugby fixtures this weekend.
In an exciting finish to the group stage of the competition, the final overall log positions and the exact make-up of the quarter-finals will only be determined at the outcome of the very last group match in Durban on Saturday evening.
In the other two local derbies, the Southern Kings kick off the weekend’s action when they host the Cheetahs in a 7pm kick-off on Friday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Then in the first match on Saturday, the Bulls and Stormers will continue their rivalry when they meet each other at 15:05 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
Sharks v Lions
Johan Ackermann’s Lions team must win in Durban and hope for a Hurricanes win over the Crusaders in order for them to clinch top spot on the overall log, which will give them home advantage throughout the playoff stages.
Following the Hurricanes and Crusaders match in the morning, the Springbok-laden Lions side will know exactly what they have to do in Durban to end up on top of the log. However, a win for the Crusaders will see them securing the top seeding for the playoffs regardless of the outcome in Durban.
The Lions, who welcome back Springbok centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg on the bench for the trip to Durban, have won 13 of their 14 matches this season and are unbeaten in their last 11 outings. Their only defeat was away to the Jaguares on 11 March.
Meanwhile, Springbok Chiliboy Ralepelle starts in place of Franco Marais at hooker in the only change to the Sharks front row, while fellow Bok Jean-Luc du Preez returns in place of Tera Mtembu on the side of the scrum.
Outside centre Lukhanyo Am returns from injury with Kobus van Wyk shifting to the wing and Lwazi Mvovo moves to fullback where he replaces Curwin Bosch, who is now on the bench. Springbok prop Beast Mtawarira was not considered due to a neck strain.
Cheetahs v Southern Kings
The Southern Kings have caught the imagination of the neutrals the past few months with their attacking displays, which have seen them scoring six wins. In doing so, the side coached by Deon David has scored some memorable away wins in Australia, Argentina and in South Africa.
Davids, who this year has led the Kings to their best performance in the competition, made just one change and a positional switch to his starting side that beat the Bulls last weekend.
Lock Wilhelm van der Sluys makes a return to the side after missing out last weekend due to a concussion and he replaces Irne Herbst in the starting team. In a positional switch, Lubabalo Mtyanda will now don the No 4 jersey worn by Herbst last weekend. The rest of the starting line-up remains the same.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith made a couple of tweaks to his team that lost 40-34 to the Stormers in Bloemfontein in their previous outing. Carl Wegner comes in for Armand Koster at lock, with Koster moving to the bench. Springbok Uzair Cassiem switches to No 6 flank and he makes way for fellow Bok Oupa Mohoje who is now back in the starting line-up at No 7.
Fred Zeilinga starts at flyhalf, with Niel Marais providing cover on the bench. William Small-Smith gets the nod at right wing as replacement for the injured Sergeal Petersen (hamstring).
The PE game will be both teams’ final encounter in the competition following their decision to pursue other playing opportunities in view of the competition’s revamp next year.
Bulls v Stormers
Bulls coach, Nollis Marais, made two changes to the starting team that lost to the Kings. Flanker Shaun Adendorff replaces Ruan Steenkamp in the No 6 jersey, with the latter moving down to the bench, while Pierre Schoeman replaces injured loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka.
The Stormers welcome back the experienced trio of Rynhardt Elstadt, Juan de Jongh and Sikhumbuzo Notshe to the match-day squad.
Elstadt comes back into the starting line-up on the flank while De Jongh and Notshe make their return from injury on the replacements bench. The only other changes to the run-on team is in the tight five, with prop Frans Malherbe and lock Eben Etzebeth having recovered from flu. As a result, Wilco Louw and Chris van Zyl will feature off the bench, along with De Jongh and Notshe.
At the conclusion of the group stage, the four conference winners will be ranked 1 – 4 based on their final number of points and the wild cards will be ranked 5 – 8 according to their final positions.
Southern Kings v Cheetahs
Southern Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (captain), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Mzamo Majola. Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Irne Herbst/Mzwanele Zito, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Masixole Banda, 23 Waylon Murray/Yaw Penxe.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Elandre Huggett, 1 Ox Nche. Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Chris Dry, 22 Ruan van Rensburg, 23 Niel Marais.
Bulls v Stormers
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Duncan Mathews, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Nick de Jager, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuurren, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 John-Roy Jenkinson, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Piet Van Zyl, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Burger Odendaal.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth (vice-captain), 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Dan Kriel.
Sharks v Lions
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S’busiso Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (captain), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit. Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: 16. Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Other Round 17 matches:
Friday 14 July
09:35 – Highlanders v Reds (Dunedin)
11:45 – Rebels v Jaguares (Melbourne)
Saturday 15 July
05:05 – Sunwolves v Blues (Tokyo)
07:15 – Chiefs v Brumbies (Hamilton)
09:35 – Hurricanes v Crusaders (Wellington)
13:55 – Force v Waratahs (Perth).