Currie Cup

Currie Cup brought to the fore

2017-07-20 20:54
Currie Cup (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Sixteen weeks of stirring provincial rugby action will be kick-started on Friday evening when South Africa's favourite domestic competition, the Currie Cup kicks off in Bloemfontein, where the Free State Cheetahs, will start the defence of their crown against the Sharks.

This tightly contested Premier Division affair on Friday will be followed on Saturday when two former champions, Griquas and the Blue Bulls, front up in Kimberley. The weekend's action will be concluded Sunday in Nelspruit, where the Pumas will host the Golden Lions in the scenic Mbombela Stadium.

Western Province start with a bye.

The 2017 edition of this iconic tournament will see these seven teams contest the Premier Division, playing each other twice on a home and away basis, with the semi-finals on 21 October and the final a week later on 28 October.

Both winners in the last two seasons, the Lions (2015) and Free State Cheetahs (2016), came through those respective campaigns undefeated and it will be a unique triple should the 2017 champions be crowned without losing a match.

After an undefeated 2016 season, the Free State Cheetahs, will look to start strong again. They added some serious strike power to their attack this season, with the inclusion of three Springbok Sevens players in their match day squad. Rosko Specman will start on the wing, while Cecil Afrika and Chris Dry will add punch off the bench.

Incidentally, three more backline players, Clayton Blommetjies, William Small-Smith and Shaun Venter, also represented the Blitzboks earlier in their careers. The Free Staters already boast three Springboks in Francois Venter, Raymond Rhule and Uzair Cassiem and will be coached by Rory Duncan, who takes over from Franco Smith.

The Sharks have a good mix of experience and potential in their starting fifteen, with two Currie Cup centurions (and former winners) Odwa Ndungane (133 matches) and Keegan Daniel (110 matches) in their midst. Daniel will lead the side on Friday.

Ndungane made his provincial debut 17 years ago – he has won the Currie Cup three times before and will be a valuable sound board to the next generation of Sharks players coming through this season. One of those will be 20-year-old winger, Ilunga Mukendi, who has shown good form in recent months and is expected to take over the mantle from the former Springbok wing.

Newcomers to the 2017 squad include Ross Geldenhuys, Mzamo Majola and Tyler Paul, who represented the Southern Kings in Super Rugby.

Losing finalist in 2016, the Blue Bulls, will have a new captain in Ruan Steenkamp, while the impact of their new Executive of Rugby, John Mitchell, will be keenly watched. Boom Prinsloo will lead the side in Kimberley, as Steenkamp battles with a hamstring injury.

The side will be coached by Nollis Marais again, with Mitchell assisting with the attack for now. The likes of Springboks Jamba Ulengo, Rudy Paige and Piet van Zyl will provide some punch, with most of the squad well experienced, having played in the Super Rugby competition. The try-scoring momentum brought by Warrick Gelant and Duncan Matthews will also stand the team in good stead.

Griquas will rely heavily on the squad that took them to the final of the recently completed SuperSport Rugby Challenge, but also welcome back Clinton Swart, who had a storming season with the Cheetahs in Vodacom Super Rugby, as well as Poerie van Rooyen, who played at the Southern Kings. Swart will start at centre and Van Rooyen off the bench.

They have proven to be a tough nut to crack at home, losing only once in Kimberley in last year's competition. AJ Coertzen will again lead the side into battle and coach Peter Engledow will be quietly confident of his charges chances to make it into the final four.

The Pumas also have a new coach, following the disappointing performances in 2016, when they only managed one win. Brent Janse van Rensburg has joined the union from Boland and the team already showed good endeavour in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.

They have Chris Cloete, one of the stand-out flankers in Super Rugby, back from Southern Kings duties, while prop Pieter Scholtz moved east from the Golden Lions, where he represented them in last year's campaign. Cloete is injured at the moment though and was not considered for selection.

The visitors will have some challenges to overcome early in the competition, as a number of the players expected to play in the Currie Cup are still busy with Super Rugby commitments. The performances of the Golden Lions team that played in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge will be of comfort though, as they have beaten the Pumas three times in that campaign. The Johannesburgers will become tougher to beat as their big name players’ return, but have the depth and talent to stay unbeaten till then. Former Springboks, Springboks Sevens and Sharks player, Ryan Kankowski, will captain the side, with highly influential lock Marvin Orie to add experience to the pack.

Read more on:    currie cup  |  rugby
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Fixtures
Friday, 18 August 2017
Western Province v Golden Lions, Cape Town 19:00
Saturday, 19 August 2017
Blue Bulls v Free State Cheetahs, Pretoria 14:05
Sunday, 20 August 2017
Griquas v Pumas, Kimberley 14:30
Friday, 25 August 2017
Pumas v Blue Bulls, Nelspruit 19:00
Saturday, 26 August 2017
Western Province v Sharks, Cape Town 15:00
Free State Cheetahs v Golden Lions, Bloemfontein 17:15
Friday, 01 September 2017
Blue Bulls v Griquas, Pretoria 19:00
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