Cape Town - South Africa’s senior rugby landscape will have a strong international flavour in 2019, with the return of an Argentinean XV, and full-strength Namibian and Zimbabwean teams.
The Currie Cup First Division will be bolstered by an Argentina XV and Namibia, the SuperSport Rugby Challenge format will change, and the SA Rugby U19 Championship will be played over a week in a similar format to the SA Rugby Youth Weeks.
The status quo will remain in the Currie Cup Premier Division with the Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Sharks, Western Province, Free State Cheetahs, Pumas and Griquas all competing for the title.
The competition has been moved to an earlier time slot in the season though, from July 13 to September 7, which means that the Currie Cup Premier Division will not overlap with the Rugby World Cup, Super Rugby or the PRO14.
The Currie Cup First Division will now feature eight teams, with the Argentina XV and Namibia battling it out with defending champions SWD, Boland, Griffons, Valke, Leopards and Eastern Province.
The SuperSport Rugby Challenge will be split into two sections - North and South - with the top two teams from each section progressing to the semi-finals.
The North Section will consist of Namibia, the Leopards, Valke, Golden Lions, Blue Bulls, Pumas, Griffons and Griquas.
In the South Section Zimbabwe, WP, the Boland Cavaliers, SWD Eagles, Eastern Province, the Sharks and Free State Cheetahs will battle it out.
The only major change in the junior competition structures will see the SA Rugby U19 competition being converted into a compact one-week tournament comprising 16 teams - the 14 provincial unions, Limpopo and another team to be determined in due course - at a single venue.
In a new development, club players in their first year out of school will be eligible for selection in line with the competition’s objective of unearthing new promising players who have not represented their provinces at school or junior provincial level.
The SA Rugby U20 and U21 Championships show slight changes - only six teams will play in the U21 competition (WP, Free State, the Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Sharks and Leopards).
Eastern Province will take part in the U20 competition this year with the eight other teams - the Leopards, Griquas, Griffons, Valke, Pumas, Limpopo, SWD and Boland.
"The introduction of the Argentina XV and the return of Namibia to the Currie Cup First Division will add an exciting element to the competition in 2019 and we have no doubt that it will boost the tournament," said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.
"The Argentineans are former Vodacom Cup champions and they have proven in Super Rugby and on the international circuit that they are a force to be reckoned with. We expect nothing different from them in the Currie Cup First Division.
"We are also excited to welcome back Namibia, who have delivered a number of competitive performances in the competition in the past."
Defending Currie Cup champions, the Sharks, will meet Griquas in Durban in the opening match of the Premier Division on Friday, July 12, while the Golden Lions will take on the Pumas in Johannesburg, and Western Province hosts the Blue Bulls in Cape Town on Saturday, July 13.
Amateur provincial rugby will also feature on the local landscape with a pilot project in SWD, where eight municipally-based representative teams will be chosen from within the borders of the union, divided into two divisions, namely the Cup and Shield.
2019 SA Rugby Competition dates (fixtures TBC):
April 26/27 to June 29 - SuperSport Rugby Challenge
July 5/6 to August 31 - Currie Cup First Division
July 12/13 to September 7 - Currie Cup Premier Division
September 6/7 - Currie Cup Promotion-Relegation
June 21/22 to September 7 - SA Rugby U21 Championship
July 12/13 to August 31 - SA Rugby U20 Championship
September 21-29 - SA Rugby U19 Championship
September 28 to November 9 - Amateur Provincial Pilot Project