The penultimate round of the league phase of the competition has served up some intriguing clashes, and with seven of the eight sides still in the running for the semifinals there will be no shortage of intensity on Monday night.
The only team without a chance of making the semifinals is winless Wits who face another major challenge as they travel to Potchefstroom to take on log-leaders NWU-Pukke in the first match to be televised live.
NWU-Pukke are coming off consecutive away wins against NMMU and defending champions UP-Tuks, so they will be aiming for a bonus-point victory in front of their home crowd to extend their lead at the top of the standings.
Down in Cape Town the third-placed Ikey Tigers will be looking for their first home win of the season when they look to tame both the fourth-placed UFS-Shimlas and the notorious wind on the Green Mile.
The Ikeys are unbeaten on the road this season but have not had as much success at home, and they will be tested once again by a UFS-Shimlas team that held Maties to a draw in a windy Stellenbosch last week.
Maties have been very erratic this year and find themselves down in sixth position, but well within striking distance of the top four, and they are up against a desperate UJ side who have just one win to show for their efforts this season.
Despite their troubles this year, UJ’s hopes of making the semifinals are not over so expect them to have a full go in front of their home crowd with their campaign effectively on the line.
UP-Tuks will be looking to bounce back from their first defeat of the season to NWU-Pukke last week when they host the NMMU Madibaz in Pretoria.
The Madibaz find themselves in fifth place after their tough win over Wits last week, and they face another difficult assignment against a UP-Tuks team determined to bounce back from a defeat at home.
In the Varsity Shield Fort Hare will be looking to do a rare season double over two-time champions CUT. The Eastern Cape side handed CUT their first defeat since 2012 earlier this season, so the Ixias will be out for revenge when they meet in Alice.
The bottom two sides in the competition – TUT and UWC – will be looking to make a late charge up the standings when they meet in Pretoria. Peter de Villiers’ UWC edged UKZN last week, and they will be hoping to back that up against a TUT Vikings side that is low on confidence after three consecutive defeats.
Double Varsity Young Guns champions UP-Tuks will be out to extend their remarkable unbeaten record when they host NWU-Pukke in Pretoria. NWU-Pukke won their only previous game against Wits, but face the true test of their play-off credentials from the big UP-Tuks outfit.
Over in Johannesburg it will be a battle between two unbeaten teams when UJ host the Junior Maties in a match that is likely to decide who finishes top of their pool.
There are three matches to look forward to in the Koshuisrugby Championships as competition heats up ahead of the play-off stage of the season. On the Green Mile the Cobras will host Heimat from UFS in a curtain-raiser to the main Varsity Cup game.
In Pretoria both Onderstepoort and Oppidani will be looking for their first wins of the season, whilst Patria and Medies will face each other with top spot in their pool on the line.
NWU-Pukke v Wits
(Fanie du Toit Stadium, Potchefstroom – Kick-off: 16.45 live on Supersport One)
Wits: 15 Ruhan Nel, 14 Mandla Dube, 13 Divan Ferguson, 12 Brent Crossley, 11 Riaan Arends, 10 Ashlon Davids, 9 Mathew Torrance, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 Senna Esterhuizen, 6 J.P. Jonck, 5 Rendani Ramovha, 4 Devin Montgomery (captain), 3 Gideon Muller, 2 Ashley Kohler, 1 Hannes Ludick.
Replacements: 16 James Marx, 17 Kyle Wood, 18 Conor Brockschmidt, 19 Peter van Biljon, 20 Joshua Jarvis, 21 Ish Nkolo, 22 Joshua Jarvis, 23 Ferdinand Kelly.
Referees: Jaco Kotze, Jaco Pretorius
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Johan Greeff
UCT v UFS-Shimlas
(UCT Rugby Fields, Cape Town – Kick-off: 17.00)
UCT: 15 Ross Jones Davies, 14 Richard Stewart, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Guy Shwikard, 11 Lihleli Xoli, 10 Dean Grant, 9 Liam Slatem (captain), 8 Michael Botha, 7 Vince Jobo, 6 Jason Klaasen, 5 James Kilroe, 4 Shaun McDonald, 3 Digby Webb, 2 Neil Rautenbach, 1 Joel Carew.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Robin Murray, 18 Guy Alexander, 19 Kyle Kriel, 20 James Alexander, 21 Martin Sauls, 22 Nathan Nel, 23 David Maasch.
UFS-Shimlas: 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Maphuta Dolo, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht (captain), 11 Divandre Strydom, 10 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Gerhard Olivier, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Neil Claassen, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Justin Pappin, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Franco van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Markus Odendaal, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Johan van der Hoogt, 19 Neill Jordaan, 20 Kay-Kay Hlongwane, 21 Francois du Toit, 22 Sethu Tom, 23 Gideon Bruwer.
Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Quinton Immelman
UJ v Maties
(UJ Stadium, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 19.00 live on Supersport One)
UJ: 15 Marais Schmidt, 14 PJ Walters, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Michael Haznar, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Jacques Pretorius (captain), 8 Dylan Peterson, 7 Victor Sekekete, 6 Kobus Porter, 5 David Antonites, 4 Shane Kirkwood, 3 Van Zyl Botha, 2 Jannes Snyman, 1 Devon Marthinus.
Replacements: 16 Qinisile Siphato, 17 Wiseman Kamanga, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 JP Swanepoel, 20 Lukas van Zyl, 21 Juan Kotze, 22 Pieter Morton, 23 Hendrik Bredenkamp.
Maties: 15 Craig Barry, 14 Clearance Khumalo, 13 Mark Hodgskiss, 12 Jacobus Loubser, 11 Caleb Smith, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jean Nel, 8 Tertius Daniller (captain), 7 Justin Benn, 6 Beyers de Villiers, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Nicol Heyns, 2 Charl de Villiers, 1 Niel Oelofse.
Replacements: 16 Neethling Gericke, 17 Wesley Adonis, 18 Ian Groenewald, 19 Helmut Lehmann, 20 Bjorn Bernardo, 21 Chris Smith, 22 John Durr, 23 Liam Hendricks.
Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Tahla Ntshakaza
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Willie Roos
UP-Tuks v NMMU
(Tuks Rugby Stadium, Pretoria – Kick-off: 19.00)
UP-Tuks: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Ryan Nell, 11 Kefentse Mahlo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Carlo Engelbrecht, 8 Reniel Hugo (captain), 7 Rudolph Smith, 6 Chris Massyn, 5 Dennis Visser, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Basil Short, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Jannes Kirsten, 19 Leneve Damens, 20 Emile Temperman, 22 Francois Tredoux, 22 Duncan Matthews, 23 Andrew Beerwinkel.
NMMU Madibaz: 15 Jarryd Buys, 14 Tythan Adams, 13 Michael Bernardt, 12 Andile Jho, 11 Yamkela Ngam, 10 Gavin Hauptfleisch, 9 Daniel Acker, 8 Marcel Groenewald, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Christopher Cloete, 5 Cameron Lindsay, 4 Louis Fourie, 3 Dexter Fahey, 2 Jody Reyneke, 1 Roy Godfrey (captain).
Replacements: 16 Martin Ferreira, 17 Abongile Mnyaka, 18 Tim Agaba, 19 Wade Elliot, 20 Kayle van Zyl, 21 Devon Lailvaux, 22 Sinakho Mafu, 23 Simon Kerrod.
Referees: Stephan Geldenhuys, Oregopotse Rametsi
Forwards Scarra Ntubeni and Pat Cilliers will have to head home, joining Rynhardt Elstadt who returned to Cape Town last week, whilst Frans Malherbe and Michael Rhodes are in doubt ahead of Friday’s second tour match (v the Chiefs).
Boland prop Martin Dreyer will fly over as injury cover and negotiations are presently underway to secure the services of Martin Bezuidenhout (who was part of the squad last season) as cover at hooker.
Stormers full injury report:
– Hooker Scarra Ntubeni (torn calf muscle) and Pat Cilliers (fractured rib cartilage) are on their way home from the tour with injuries. Ntubeni has a grade two tear and could be out for five weeks. Cilliers could be out of action for up to six weeks.
– Tighthead prop Frans Malherbe (broken baby toe) and lock/flank Michael Rhodes (shoulder) will be given until Wednesday to prove their fitness. Malherbe appears more doubtful at this stage.
– Fullback Jaco Taute (AC Joint) is making good progress from the weekend and has a big chance of facing the Chiefs.
– Boland prop Martin Dreyer will join the squad in Auckland this week and negotiations are presently underway to secure Griquas hooker Martin Bezuidenhout as cover for Ntubeni. If Bezuidenhout cannot make it, DHL WP Vodacom Cup hooker Stephan Coetzee will fly over to New Zealand as cover.
“It’s a long list of injuries, Scarra and Pat will join quality players like Rynhardt Elstadt, Eben Etzebeth, Manuel Carizza, Jean Kleyn, Juan de Jongh and Cheslin Kolbe back home and on the sidelines, Stormers coach Coetzee said at the media briefing. “But the guys are still positive and there’s a good feeling and mood in the camp. We had a good training session today and also had a good video review of the game. There were a lot of positives from the game, but the big negative – again – was us not taking the opportunities we created for ourselves.”