Cape Town - It will be a special week of Currie Cup action for veteran Griquas prop Steph Roberts as matches in the Premier and First Division this week serve as extended and exciting curtain raisers to the Springboks’ opening Rugby Championship Test against Argentina.
In the Premier Division, the Free State Cheetahs, Sharks and Golden Lions will attempt try to protect their unbeaten status on the same weekend that Griquas prop Steph Roberts matches the union’s record of earning 161 Currie Cup caps.
In the Currie Cup First Division, meanwhile, the four teams in action will look to build momentum after kicking off their season last weekend.
Three of the four Currie Cup Premier Division matches will be played on Friday, with Boland hosting the Sharks in Wellington in the first match at 15:00, which will be followed by clashes between Western Province (17:10) and the Free State Cheetahs in Cape Town and the Vodacom Blue Bulls and EP Kings in Pretoria (19:20) respectively.
On Saturday, Griquas host defending champions, the Golden Lions, in Kimberley (14:10). The Pumas, meanwhile, have a bye.
In the First Division, 2015 runners up, SWD, meet 2014 champions, the Griffons, in George on Friday (17:00) and Namibia’s Welwitschias take on defending champions, the Leopards, at the Hage Geingob Stadium in Windhoek on Saturday (15:00).
In Wellington, Boland will have everything to play for as they attempt to register their first victory against the Sharks in several years. In the 13 matches between the teams since 1996, the KwaZulu-Natalians are yet to lose.
The hosts, however, come off a confidence-boosting victory against the EP Kings, while they also have the luxury of home ground advantage. But they will have to replicate the solid defensive effort they displayed last week and capitalise on their point-scoring chances effectively to stop the Sharks who come off consecutive bonus-point victories.
The clash between Western Province and the Free State Cheetahs is expected to be exciting as the biggest winning margin in their last six matches has been only seven points.
The Free Staters will enter the match with confidence following a convincing victory last weekend over the Blue Bulls, but they will face a home team determined to secure their first win of the season after going down in Pretoria in the opening round. The home team will have the luxury of an Olympic bronze medallist on their bench in the exciting Cheslin Kolbe.
The Blue Bulls, meanwhile, will have their sights set on returning to their winning ways against the EP Kings after a disappointing performance last week.
The men from Port Elizabeth have only beaten them once in the Currie Cup competition since 1997, and that was back in 2002 when they won 50-48. The EP Kings challenged the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup Qualifiers and went down only 19-14, but with their new-look team getting together only last week, they are expected to be tested this week.
In Kimberley, Griquas will go flat out to end their five-match losing run against the Golden Lions. Prop Steph Roberts’ special milestone of matching the union’s record of the most matches played (161), set by Andre van Wyk between 1984 and 1995, is expected to serve as extra motivation for the hosts, whose last victory against the Lions was in Kimberley in 2012.
The hosts will be particularly wary of the visitors’ skill on attack, which earned them 10 tries last week against the Pumas, meaning their defence will have to be solid to keep alive hopes of a victory.
Currie Cup First Division
The battle between SWD and the Griffons in George is expected to be exciting as both teams come off bonus-point victories with scores in excess of 50 points last weekend, and will look to build momentum in the competition.
Given the fact that the sides have met each other six times in the last two seasons, which included two semi-finals, neither team will give an inch. SWD won their last two matches last season, but the Griffons registered a 30-14 victory in the Currie Cup Qualifier, meaning it could be a tight clash.
In Windhoek, the Welwitschias will have another shot at hunting their maiden Currie Cup victory when they take on the Leopards. The Potchefstroom side scored bonus-point victories against the Namibians in their last two matches in the Currie Cup Qualifiers and Vodacom Cup respectively, but the home team will take comfort from the fact that they went down only 33-25 in their match in Windhoek last season.
The hosts, however, will have to tighten up their defence to keep alive hopes of a victory after conceding eight tries against SWD last week.
- The lowest losing margin for Boland in their last 13 Currie Cup matches against the Sharks was six points, but the Durbanites have won most of the matches convincingly. In their last Currie Cup Premier Division match in 2009, the Sharks won 48-3 as they ran in eight tries – three of which were scored by veteran Sharks player Jacques Botes.
- Springbok utility back Johan Goosen kicked three conversions and a penalty goal for the Toyota Free State Cheetahs the last time they defeated Western Province in Cape Town back in 2011. They won 34-20 and scored four tries.
- The Blue Bulls have scored 28 points or more in all of their matches against the EP Kings in the Currie Cup, with their highest score being 48 points - incidentally they lost one of their two matches with this score. They also earned bonus-point victories in two of their last three matches.
- Springbok wing Ruan Combrinck was one of the star players in the Xerox Golden Lions’ last match against Griquas in Kimberley in 2014 as he kicked five conversions, two penalty goals and scored a try for a personal total of 21 points.
- The SWD Eagles and Griffons have met in Semi-final of the last two Currie First Division competitions, with each side winning one of those matches to advance to the final. Both these Semi-finals followed a meeting between the sides in the final round of pool matches the previous week. In last season’s Semi-final SWD fullback Leighton Eksteen earned 27 points thanks to six penalties, two conversions and a try.
- The Welwitschias went down against the Leopards in last year’s Vodacom Cup competition and the Currie Cup Qualifiers this season. Despite this Welwitschias flyhalf Shaun Kaizemi proved to be a key player for the Namibian side as he scored 22 points in these two matches (three conversions, two penalties and two tries).