Preview: Currie Cup, Round One
Preview: Currie Cup, Round OneSHARE
South Africa's premier domestic competition, the Currie Cup, will take its rightful place in the spotlight when it gets underway this weekend.
Arguably the most prestigious domestic competition anywhere, it is steeped in history and tradition. The Currie Cup dates back to 1889 and is the oldest provincial rugby competition in the world.
The majestic gold trophy – which only came into play when it was brought to these shores by the 1891 British Isles touring team, a donation from Donald Currie – remains the holy grail of South African rugby.
Many may regard the modern version as a watered down affair, given that the Springboks no longer feature much as a result of their increased international commitments, but it is still the cornerstone of the game in South Africa.
The Round One action starts when the Sharks host Griquas in Durban on Friday.
On Saturday the Golden Lions will host the Free State Cheetahs in Johannesburg and then the defending champions, Western Province, will battle it out with the Blue Bulls in the traditional north-south derby Cape Town.
Jan de Koning looks at all the Round One matches!
Friday, August 9
Sharks v Griquas
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-of: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The significance of this game is that it marks the start of a new era in the Shark Tank – under a new CEO, John Smit, they have a new coaching structure.
It features a Director of Rugby in Brendan Venter, forwards coach Brad Macleod-Henderson and backline coach Sean Everitt.
Injuries and Springbok call-ups means they are sans 12 frontline players – Paul Jordaan, Peter-Steph du Toit, Anton Bresler, Marius Joubert, Frans Steyn and Sibusiso Sithole are injured, while Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pat Lambie and Tendai Mtawarira are on Bok duty.
However, the Sharks starting XV still features seven Springboks, including captain Keegan Daniel, flyhalf Butch James and wing Lwazi Mvovo.
Being the first game of the season it means Griquas are as much an unknown factor as the Sharks.
The visitors feature just a handful of returning Super Rugby stars – Francois Brummer (who was just a part-timer at the Cheetahs), Rynard Landman, Lourens Adriaanse and Ryno Barnes, who will captain the team.
Of course there is forgotten Springbok Hilton Lobberts, back from a stint in Italy.
The Sharks' forwards coach, Macleod-Henderson, admitted they haven't seen much of Griquas, but described them as "a quality outfit" and a side that seems to really target the Currie Cup.
"The last couple of years they have been very successful in the Currie Cup," Macleod-Henderson told this website.
"It is going to be a tough game, as it is the first outing for both teams.
"Obviously there is some uncertainty on both sides, but we will give it a full go."
2012: Sharks won 42-3, Durban
2012: Griquas won 22-15, Kimberley
2011: Sharks won 29-18, Durban
2011:: Griquas won 43-22, Kimberley
2010: Sharks won 48-30, Durban
2010: Griquas won 40-34, Kimberley
Prediction: Griquas are artful, often coming up with some ingenious tactics to upset the big guns of the competition. They have also recruited a few old hands to ensure they are once again competitive. However, the Sharks are at home and look to have just too much class. It will be a hard grind, but the Sharks should win – by about 10 points.
Sharks: 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Sizo Maseko, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Butch James, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Griquas: 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 JP Nel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 PJ Vermeulen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Burger Schoeman, 7 Jaco Nepgen, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Nick Schonert, 18 Jonathan Adendorf, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Marnus Hugo, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 Rocco Jansen.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Willie Roos
Saturday, August 10
Golden Lions v Free State Cheetahs
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
The Golden Lions will have plenty to prove when they host the Free State Cheetahs at Ellis Park.
After reclaiming their Super Rugby status last week, by two points on aggregate in the two-match series against the Southern Kings, their detractors were quick to suggest they will once again be bottom feeders.
And with the Cheetahs having name a quality team – which features all but four of the players who took them to the Super Rugby play-offs – there may be merit in the claims that the Lions could be in for a long day at the office.
However, Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské suggested the Lions may just be the team to beat in the competition this year.
"They haven't had a tough Super Rugby season," Drotské told this website, adding that the Cheetahs start their campaign away from home.
"I feel they could be the team to beat in the Currie Cup," he said of the home side.
Lions counterpart Johan Ackermann disagreed – citing a host of departing senior players and injuries as the reason why they can't be judged on their form in the promotion-relegation matches.
Regular captain JC Janse van Rensburg has already joined up with French team Bayonne, tighthead prop Julian Redelinghuys will have to undergo surgery after suffering a hand fracture, first-choice scrumhalf Michael Bondesio remains sidelined after knee surgery, while back-up No.9 Ross Cronje injured his hamstring and will be sidelined for about six weeks, fullback Ruan Combrink tore ankle ligaments and also faces a lengthy stay on the sidelines and star loose forward Warren Whitely will undergo surgery for a dislocated finger.
Then there's injuries that sidelined season players like Lionel Mapoe, Andries Coetzee and Alwyn Hollenbach even before the play-offs.
"We have a number of new faces in the team and will focus on our own game," Ackermann told this website, when quizzed about the threats posed by the Cheetahs.
"As the competition evolves we will look to analyse the other teams more," he said, adding: "Our focus was to get past the Kings and now we'll refocus on the Currie Cup [competition] now."
Drotské said there is no secrets from his team and they will stick to the game plan that worked for them in Super Rugby.
"We have a way that we play and that is about when the opportunities present itself," the Cheetahs mentor said.
"We certainly won't deviate from that. In Super Rugby we played when it was on, maybe more against some teams than other sides – depending on what strengths and weaknesses we identified and how [good] their defence was.
"The policy and the broader game plan that we will employ remains unchanged."
2012: Cheetahs won 26-5, Bloemfontein
2012:: Golden Lions won 27-25, Johannesburg
2011: Cheetahs won 53-19, Johannesburg
2011: Golden Lions won 25-20, Bloemfontein
2010: Cheetahs won 59-10, Bloemfontein
2009: Golden Lions won 34-28, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions may well struggle without the services of some of their most senior players, especially inspirational captain JC Janse an Rensburg. The Cheetahs are more settled, despite Naka Drotské's best efforts to claim the underdog tag. The Cheetahs to win, but by less than 10 points.
Golden Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Guy Cronje, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie (captain), 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Lambert Groenewald, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Lionel Cronje/Robert de Bruyn.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johan Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo (captain), 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Jon-Roy Jenkinson, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, Wian du Preez, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Joubert Engelbrecht, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Western Province v Blue Bulls
(Newlands, Cape Town – Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
They don't come much bigger that this north-south derby. However, the Bulls' last couple of visits to Newlands have ended in misery.
Province demolished the Bulls 42-6 in the corresponding Currie Cup fixture last year and the Stormers recorded an equally convincing 30-13 win over the Bulls in a Super Rugby match just a month ago.
It is the latter of the two results that are significant – as the WP team is remarkably similar in terms of personnel, but for the Bulls only a handful of players return on Saturday.
While Province will also blood a number of rookies, the Bulls field a decidedly inexperienced squad.
Bulls coach Pine Pienaar admitted that the blooding of so many youngsters was unavoidable, given that they have lost the services of eight Springboks.
"Some young players will get exposure and will have their first taste of Currie Cup competition," Pienaar told this website.
"From a coaching and management side we are excited by the challenge.
"There's no team that just goes out and say: 'We are just building'. Everybody want to win the competition.
"However, given the number of senior players from some teams that will be involved with the Springboks and the number of players being lost to the markets [teams] abroad, means you are basically forced to play with more junior players.
"It is certainly an opportunity for us to feature a number of our younger players and see how they cope in senior rugby – see if they are good enough to play Super Rugby next year."
Pienaar said they have a lot of faith in their structures and believe the younger players should give a good account of themselves.
Province coach Allister Coetzee was equally excited about the talent in his team.
"It's another great opportunity for us to unearth some new talent," Coetzee told a media briefing in Cape Town this week.
"North-South derbies are always big games and we're not expecting anything different this weekend."
2012: Blue Bulls won 26-13, Pretoria
2012: Western Province won 42-6, Cape Town
2011: Blue Bulls won 28-20, Pretoria
2011: Western Province won 35-7, Cape Town
2010: Blue Bulls won 36-32, Pretoria
2010: Western Province won 15-12, Cape Town
Prediction: With both team's priding themselves on their strong forwards, the clash is expected to be brutal – but then you wouldn't expect anything else from these north-south derbies. Western Province appear to have too much experience and should win comfortably – by 10 to 15 points.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Pat Howard, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Alistair Vermaak, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Ruan Kitshoff, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Berton Klaasen.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Ulrich Beyers, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Tony Jantjies, 9 Rudi Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellet.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Marcell van der Merwe, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Clayton Blommetjies.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Lusanda Jam, Marc van Zyl
TMO: Deon van Blommestein