Currie Cup

First round will be indicator for Currie Cup season

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It’s back to home basics after the British and Irish Lions tour with the Currie Cup kicking off this weekend – and it is with a fair amount of expectation and, in some cases trepidation, that the first round is being awaited.

The draw in itself makes this an interesting weekend. Defending champions, the Sharks, are away at Newlands against a Western Province outfit that instill a little more confidence than last year’s side which in the end got close enough to the play-offs.
 
The decimated Xerox Lions travel across the Jukskei to do battle with pre-competition favourites, the Blue Bulls, in what could be a make or break match for the Johannesburg side.
 
Griquas will have to show more than just intent against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein if they are to be regarded as serious contenders this year; and new boys, the Leopards, will have to do likewise against a Boland Kavaliers side in Wellington -graveyard of many a team in the recent past.
 
— The Sharks have some of their Boks back, and will be a handful up front.
 
However, with Chris Jack and Anton van Zyl at lock and Springbok Tiaan Liebenberg between two solid props Wickus Blaauw and Brok Harris, the home side will not stand back.

The loose ball could be the decider, with Luke Watson’s task enormous.

Pieter Myburgh and Pieter Louw are relative newcomers to this league, and will have to play out of their boots to ensure Province get to the breakdown first.

Behind the scrum WP’s greater experience with a fair amount of flair could be decisive against a Sharks side who will largely rely on youth and promise.

— At Loftus, one simply cannot see the new-look Lions team starting off on a winning note. New Lions coach Hans Coetzee, has had to fill up gaps left by injuries and departures, and the task will undoubtedly be too much for the never-say-die captain and flank Cobus Grobbelaar and company, with poor Jano Vermaak’s challenge for a Springbok scrumhalf jersey not being helped by the circumstances.

Coetzee, inexperienced at this level but a coach who has already brought his young team together, needs time – and despite many sceptics, he is probably the man to take the Lions back to real competitiveness.

However, Saturday’s match, against the likes of Springbok centres Jaco Pretorius and Wynand Olivier, Wilhelm Steenkamp and Flippie van der Merwe at lock, a tough loose trio of Dries van Schalkwyk, Dewald Potgieter, Jacques Burger and a Super Rugby  front row of Werner Kruger, captain Derrick Kuun and Jaco Engels, will be too much.

— The Free State have omitted Springbok speedster Jongi Nokwe on the wing after poor performance in last Saturday’s third test.

They have their virtual Super Rugby side available, and despite their poor record in that competition – they finished last – have shown glimpses of class and especially resolve when they came back from Australasia.

Playing at home make them undoubted favourites over Griquas, but the ten players from their neighbours who as member of the Royal XV gave the touring Lions such a fright in the first tour match, have shown they have enough players of quality and, especially, the guts to be successful at this level.

This match could be closer than most would predict.

–The Leopards have a reasonably established side for their return to the Premier league, and fit-again Clayton du Rand at flyhalf is a timely boost.

They will also be buoyed by the fact that a reasonably dry field is expected in Wellington against a side that has the experience but has not had much game time together during the Vodacom Cup campaign.

In the First Division, a new-look Valke side under a new coach Yagia Sakier start their challenge.

A third of the team will be making their Currie Cup debuts, and their home ground advantage will be the boost they need against a Griffons side loaded with Free State players who are nod needed at present.

Border, even away against their neighbours and old foe Eastern Province, could start their season on a winning note. SWD Eagles and the Pumas have a bye.

This weekend’s fixtures are (home teams first):

Premier Division:

Friday:

Boland v Leopards (3.30pm),
Cheetahs v Griquas (7.10pm)

Saturday:

Blue Bulls v Xerox Lions (3pm),
Western Province v Sharks(5.05pm)

First Division:

Saturday:

Valke v Griffons (tbc),
EP Mighty Elephants v Border (3pm)
Byes: SWD Eagles, Pumas.

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