South Africa

Lions back at full strength, Cheetahs and Sharks primed for battle in Challenge Cup

The Lions have reverted back to their full strength team for their Challenge Cup match-up against the Newcastle Falcons at Ellis Park on Saturday (kick-off 5:15pm), while the Cheetahs and Sharks made minimal changes for their encounter at the Toyota Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

It was the perfect start to the Challenge Cup for the Lions last weekend when a second string side made the trip to French side USA Perpignan and stunned them 28-12 in France, while their entire starting line-up remained back in SA resting.

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Almost all of them have now been recalled for the visit of the Falcons and they will be aiming to take a full house of points from the match.

Only one player from last week’s starters, left wing Rabz Maxwane retains his place due to Edwill van der Merwe having some time off as he is getting married.

Another regular starter, outside centre Henco van Wyk, will also miss the game due to picking up a niggle, with Rynardt Jonker, who played off the bench in France, slotting into the starting line-up.

Flyhalf battle

Sanele Nohamba will again play at flyhalf, despite Jordan Hendrikse’s stellar man-of-the-match performance against Perpignan with him named on the bench, while the rest of the starting backline that played against the Dragons in the United Rugby Championship (URC) are back.

The forwards also see the return of six of the eight starters from the Dragons match, with the only changes being a new lock pairing as Willem Alberts replaces the suspended Ruben Schoeman and Darrien Landsberg returns from injury to run the lineouts.

In all the Lions have picked as close to their strongest side as they can and with the Falcons struggling this season having lost all nine games across all competitions so far, the hosts will be heavy favourites to clinch a second straight Challenge Cup win.

Lions XV: Quan Horn, Richard Kriel, Rynhardt Jonker, Marius Louw (c), Rabz Maxwane, Sanele Nohamba, Morne van den Berg, Francke Horn, Ruan Venter, Emmanuel Tshituka, Darrien Landsberg, Willem Alberts, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, PJ Botha, JP Smith

Bench: Jaco Visagie, Morgan Naude, Ruan Smith, Raynard Roets, Hanru Sirgel, JC Pretorius, Jordan Hendrikse, Gianni Lombard

Cheetahs v Sharks

The Cheetahs and Sharks will be battling it out oat the highest level for the first time since 2017, when the Free State side was booted out of Super Rugby, as they go head to head in their Challenge Cup match in Bloemfontein on Sunday (kick-off 3pm).

The hosts have made just three changes to the starting 15 that got their Challenge Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a 33-15 away win over Zebre in Italy last weekend.

The front row sees two new props as Cameron Dawson and Hencus van Wyk come in to assist Marnus van der Merwe against a fearsome Sharks front three, while the rest of the pack remains the same, including Jeandre Rudolph at eighthman who will be making his 50th appearance for the Cheetahs.

The backline then sees just one change with Daniel Kasende coming in on the right wing for Siba Xamlashe who drops out of the match 23, while last weekend’s man-of-the-match Ruan Pienaar will continue to pull the strings at scrumhalf against his former side.

Full strength Sharks

The Sharks have also gone for continuity, naming an almost full strength team chock full of Springbok stars for the game.

It has been a poor season so far for the Sharks and after claiming a thumping 45-5 win over Fench side Pau in their opener in Durban, they will be desperate to build some good momentum with another big performance against the Cheetahs.

The Sharks have made just two changes to their side, one in the forwards and one in the backs as lock Le Roux Roets comes in for his first start of the season having made his return from injury last weekend and Corne Rahl drops to the bench.

Werner Kok also returns from an injury niggle, slotting in at right wing while Marnus Potgieter drops out of the match 23.

All of their available Bok World Cup winners remain in the starting line-up and captain Lukhanyo Am, wing Makazole Mapimpi, scrumhalf Grant Williams, lock Eben Etzebeth and prop Ox Nche will all be eager to help their side to a big win.

Cheetahs XV: Tapiwa Mafura, Daniel Kasende, Evardi Boshoff, Reinhardt Fortuin, Cohen Jasper, George Lourens, Ruan Pienaar, Jeandre Rudolph, Friedle Olivier, Gideon van der Merwe, Victor Sekekete (c), Rynier Bernardo,  Hencus van Wyk, Marnus van der Merwe, Cameron Dawson

 Bench: Louis van der Westhuizen, Alulutho Tshakweni, Laurance Victor, Carl Wegner, Daniel Maartens, Sibabalo Qoma, Rewan Kruger, Ali Mgijima

Sharks XV: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Lukhanyo Am (c), Francois Venter, Makazole Mapimpi, Curwin Bosch, Grant Williams, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Phepsi Buthelezi, James Venter, Le Roux Roets, Eben Etzebeth, Coenie Oosthuizen, Kerron van Vuuren, Ox Nche.

Bench: Dan Jooste, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Hanro Jacobs, Corne Rahl, Jeandre Labuschagne, Jaden Hendrikse, Lionel Cronje, Ethan Hooker.