Blue Bulls take on Pumas in Provincial opener
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The National Provincial Challenge opens up with a couple of mouth-watering clashes across South Africa on Saturday.
In Pretoria, the Blue Bulls will host the Pumas at Loftus Versfeld in the first match of the tournament. The home team will be coached by the experienced Pote Human, fresh from leading Tuks to the title in the Varsity Cup, while the visitors will have new coach Brent Janse van Rensburg in charge for the first time. Kick-off is at 14.30 (12.30 GMT).
Matches in Kempton Park and Welkom will commence shortly after, with the final match of the day, between the Sharks XV and Griquas, kicks-off at 17.00 (15.00 GMT) in Durban, as a curtain-raiser to the Super Rugby match between the Sharks and the Rebels.
In Kempton Park, the Falcons welcomes the Welwitschias and in Welkom, the Griffons host the Leopards. Both matches start at 15.00 (13.00 GMT).
The Namibians will be keen to start well and have an astute coach in Welshman, Lyn Jones, but the Falcons will have some World Cup experience in their coaching booth with Rudy Joubert and will be prepared.
The match in Welkom will be a replay of last year’s Currie Cup First Division final, where the Griffons edged the Leopards in Potchefstroom for the title, making for added spice to this highly competitive contest.
The Leopards will have some early season continuity with a number of NWU-Pukke players joining coach Jonathan Mokuena’s team, while the men from Welkom’s astute coach, Oersond Gorgonzola, will he asking his troops to follow the same script from last year.
The Sharks XV boast an explosive backline in Durban, with the likes of Odwa Ndungane, Sibusiso Sithole, Johan Deysel and Sibusiso Nkosi packing incredible firepower. The vastly experienced coaching staff of Paul Anthony and Ricardo Loubscher will also make sure the Durbanites play to their strength.
Griquas have the very versatile and well-travelled George Whitehead debuting at flyhalf and with Koch Marx and Tertius Kruger also new in the backline, coach Peter Engledow will have to find a way to outfox the experience of the home side.
While Sunday's festival will be kicked off by two old club rivals, African Bombers and PE Harlequins before some serious provincial action will grab the attention of rugby fans.
Border coach David Dobela’s attacking philosophy is well-known and if his team play according to plan, will test the defensive structures of Boland to the fullest. The visitors have a new coach in Randall Modiba and his side’s mental preparation will be a huge factor in this match.
The main attraction has all the makings of topping a spectacular start to the tournament. The EP Kings will not be taken for granted and their coach, Robbi Kempson, have shown the knack to unearth emerging talents year after year. They do face a formidable Western Province outfit though, with coach John Dobson bringing an invigorating approach to how rugby should be played and enjoyed.
The competition will see all 14 provinces and a team from Namibia battle it out in three regional pools, with the top eight sides continuing to contest for the trophy in a number of knock-out matches later in the tournament.
The exciting new innovation will also see the first of five Rugby Festivals being played in Port Elizabeth's Wolfson Stadium on Sunday, April 23. This will include a local club match, which will be televised live, followed by two provincial matches in a day full of rugby action.
In Port Elizabeth, club sides African Bombers and PE Harlequins will contest for bragging rights and valuable league points in the Eastern Province Grand Challenge competition, with the winner playing in the Gold Cup later this year.
Saturday, April 22:
Blue Bulls vs Pumas
Sharks XV vs Griquas
Falcons vs Welwitschias
Griffons vs Leopards
Sunday, April 23:
African Bombers vs PE Harlequins
Border Bulldogs vs Boland
Eastern Province vs Western Province