Johannesburg - Following their 2014 Currie Cup final defeat to Western Province, Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes the weight of expectation will be heavy on the team.
Last year the Johannesburg side and WP were the clear in-form teams but Ackermann expects a tighter affair for the 2015 edition.
"It will always be difficult to say at the beginning of a season you want to perform the same as last year because every team will have the same hunger and goal of playing in the final," Ackermann said on Thursday.
"That is what makes the Currie Cup so unique, you don't know on the day which team will win because the teams are so close."
The Golden Lions won seven of their 10 matches in the round-robin phase last year before annihilating the Sharks in their semi-final at Ellis Park.
Missing five penalty conversion attempts the Lions suffered a 19-16 defeat to a determined WP side in the final in Cape Town.
Ackermann warned that while they would aim to replicate and exceed last year's Currie Cup successes the team composition would be different this time around.
"We have about 13 guys that are away and it is a new competition. Everybody is hungry and we will have to start from scratch to get to the level of last year," Ackermann said.
"We want to perform and the players that have played Super Rugby will hopefully continue with good performances but it will definitely give us an opportunity to blood new talent."
The Lions mentor believes the Currie Cup will allow him to test their depth while the search for loose forwards is one of his top priorities.
With Warwick Tecklenburg's departing for Japan and captain Warren Whiteley doing duty with the Springboks, fiery flank Jaco Kriel is one of the only stalwarts set to feature in the Currie Cup.
Should Whiteley be released from the national side he is likely to be roped in by the South African Sevens side, Ackermann said.
"There is a lot to play for as they can cement their places in the team and show us as senior coaches that they are the future of the Lions," he said.
"We can certainly strengthen our depth if a few guys put up their hands in the Currie Cup competition."
The dominating theme in this year's Currie Cup competition will be the introduction of an expansive game plan.
Ackermann's charges are no strangers to the ball-in-hand approach but he’ll be looking to experiment in a few areas of their game.
"We have a few plans we are working on and areas where we want to try a few things but the key remains to strike that balance," he said.
"It is great to hear the other teams would like to try new things because it means we are in for an exciting time in Currie Cup.
"In certain areas we want to renew and in others we would like to improve where we are not at a level we want to be."
While some observers have suggested the Currie Cup had developed into nothing more than a second-tier competition to Super Rugby, Ackermann believes there is still plenty of prestige attached to winning the title.
"We hold the Currie Cup in high regard with the tradition that is attached to it and the pride associated with being a winner of the competition," Ackermann said.
"It is where exciting rugby is played and it is as if teams play with a little bit more freedom in the Currie Cup and that is what the supporters would like to see.
"They enjoy that rugby and that is where you see the mix between youth and experience looking at all the teams.''