A repeat of last year's final
South Africa's domestic rugby season will go up a gear on Friday as the national First Division kicks off.
In an action-packed First Division opening day the Falcons host the Griffons in Kempton Park, Border take on South Western Districts in East London and the EP Kings meet the Pumas in Port Elizabeth.
In the only clash on Saturday the Boland Cavaliers go up against the Leopards in Wellington.
An important feature in these matches will be the implementation of the new experimental laws, which includes the new scrum engagement process whereby the front rows have to bind before the 'set' call. This has resulted in the call being adjusted to 'crouch, bind, set'.
The match-up of the weekend is expected to be the EP Kings battling it out with the Pumas in a repeat of last year's final. But, with the defending champions, the Kings, missing several star players due to their Super Rugby clash against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, their depth will be tested.
The visitors will also have the luxury of their top players being in good form and match fit following the SA President's XV's Tbilisi Cup victory in Georgia two weeks ago, which featured several Pumas players and their coach Jimmy Stonehouse.
Despite these hurdles EP Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons was confident that his team would rise to the occasion and said: "Obviously it is a massive challenge for us because I think this might be the first time in the history of South African rugby that a union has to field a Super Rugby and First Division team on the same weekend. That has placed a massive strain on our player resources. But we have worked hard to meet that challenge and I believe we are putting out a good team."
Looking ahead at the match, Solomons said: "This is a challenging opening game because the Pumas are one of the best teams in the competition. This clash, however, will give us a good idea of where we are in terms of our quality of play."
The clash between the Boland Cavaliers and the Leopards will also be thrilling. While the big challenge for the hosts will be to match the Leopards’ physically, especially in the set-pieces, the visitors will have to deliver a strong defensive effort to contain the exciting Boland backline.
The matches between the Falcons and Griffons, and Border and South Western Districts respectively, are also expected to be tightly contested, and with all four teams letting themselves down in the Vodacom Cup earlier this year, they will be determined to start the series on a high note.
For Griffons captain Werner Griesel, in particular, the clash will mark a special milestone in his career as he will earn his 100th cap for his province.
Friday, June 28
Falcons v Griffons
Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
Referee: Sindile Mayende
Assistant referees: Jaco Kotze , Sieg van Staden
Border v SWD
Venue: BCM Stadium, East London
Referee: Lesego Legoete
Assistant referees: Matt Kemp, Rodney Bonaparte
EP Kings v Pumas
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant referees: Lusanda Jam, Christie du Preez
TMO: Johann Meuwesen
Saturday, June 29
Boland Cavaliers v Leopards
Venue: Boland Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Ben Crouse
Assistant referees: Daniel Fortuin, Linston Manuels