South Africa’s premier rugby unions will commence battle this weekend. Their goal, to hold aloft the prestigious cup come October 24th. With World Cup commitments meaning it’s a ‘Bokless Currie Cup, there are those who say this year’s tournament will be lacking in terms of quality. However there are upsides to their absence. The first positive to be drawn is that it will allow the country’s emerging talent to take centre stage and stake their claim for national honours. Secondly, it lessens the gap in quality between the more elite provinces who participate in Super Rugby and the so-called smaller unions who ply their trade in the Vodacom Cup, which is always good in the eyes of those who like to back an underdog.
This weekend’s fixture list sees three of the four games pit the smaller unions up against the big boys, with the opener between Province and the grittiest underdogs in world rugby. The game takes place at GWK Park late on Friday afternoon, while the weekend’s proceedings come to a conclusion with a Saturday double header. The double header is courtesy of the Springboks, who take on Argentina at 17:05 that afternoon.
Griquas vs Western Province | Friday 07 August | GWK Park | 15:30
To Win (80mins)
Western Province 4/10
Griquas (+6.5) 9/10
Western Province (-6.5) 9/10
Province begin their title defence under the guidance of John Dobson who has taken over the head coaching role from Japan bound Allister Coetzee. The side will be skippered by Juan De Jongh, who has dropped out of favour with the Springbok selectors. De Jongh will be joined by fellow Springbok representative Jaco Taute in the centres. Demetri Catrakilis and Cheslin Kolbe are also from part of an experienced starting backline. In terms of the forwards, Dobson has decided to hand Currie Cup debuts to Wilco Louw and Bongi Mbonambi who join Oliver Kebble in the front row. Province will come up against one of their former employees in the shape of Michael Van Der Spuy. The young centre is one of Griquas’ men to look out for. Another player who could prove to be a thorn in the side for Province is loosie Carel Greeff. Greeff was in fine form for the men from Kimberley during their qualifying campaign, scoring two tries in their final game against South Western Districts.
VERDICT: Griquas 2/1
Kimberley is never an easy place to travel to and I can foresee the Griquas pulling off the first upset of the competition on Friday afternoon.
Pumas vs Sharks | Friday 07 August | Mbombela Stadium | 18:00
To Win (80mins)
Pumas 9/10 (+5.5)
Sharks 9/10 (-5.5)
The Pumas pulled off a famous win against the Sharks in last year’s competition and will be looking to repeat the dose this year. They have been aided in this task by the release of scrumhalf Faf De Klerk from the Springbok squad. Although they’re not a star-studded side, the Pumas do have some extremely talented players amongst the ranks including former Bulls man Stefan Watermeyer and the previously mentioned De Klerk. They also have a former Shark with a point to prove in Natal U21 Rosco Speckmen. The winger will be relishing the chance to once again show the KZN side’s coaching staff just what they’re missing out on. The Sharks are in for a tough night at Mbombela Stadium but will be buoyed by their final preseason game, which saw them run out victors in a clash against the much fancied Lions last weekend. The Natalians have gone for a youthful looking side that includes the younger two sons of former Springbok, Robert Du Preez. This weekend will also see a debut for journeyman Joe Pietersen, who made the popular switch from Free State to Natal at the end of the Cheetahs’ Super Rugby campaign.
VERDICT: Sharks 9/10 (-5.5)
Although it is a very inexperienced side the Sharks should have enough quality among the ranks to get the business done against the Pumas.
EP Kings vs Golden Lions | Saturday 08 August | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 14:15
To Win (80mins)
EP Kings 11/2
Golden Lions 1/10
EP Kings 9/10 (+17.5)
Golden Lions 9/10 (-17.5)
Last year’s runners-up start their Currie Cup campaign against the Kings on Saturday afternoon. The men from the Highveld were given a boost last week when veteran lock, Franco Mostert, was released from Springbok duty. He forms part of a solid pack which also contains Julian Redelinghuys and one of South Africa’s stand out performers in Super Rugby, Jaco Kriel. In the backline, the back three of Ruan Combrinck, Courtnall Skosan and Anthony Volmink offer excellent counter attacking options. With Elton Jantjies out of the competition due to his commitments with Japanese club NTT Shining Arcs, Marnitz Boshoff will be the incumbent ten tasked with directing this exciting backline. For the Kings, there are some formidable front row options to call upon in the shape of former Springbok prop CJ Van Der Linde as well as veteran campaigner Charles Marais. The men from Eastern Province lack a bit of quality in the backline however, with their best attacking options coming in the form of Western Province rejects Gary Van Aswegen and Tim Whitehead.
VERDICT: Lions 9/10 (-17.5)
The joint competition favourites will face a stern test in Kings country, however I see them getting past the margin with a solid second stanza display.
Free State Cheetahs v Blue Bulls | Saturday 08 August | Free State Stadium | 14:15
To Win (80mins)
Free State Cheetahs 1/1
Blue Bulls 17/20
Free State Cheetahs 9/10 (+1.5)
Blue Bulls 9/10 (-1.5)
There has been a lot of change in the Free State since the close of Super Rugby. Some big names have left, and some youngsters have come in to fill their shoes. The Super 15 campaign also saw the end of the Naka Drotske coaching era. Although his replacement Francais Smith did assume the helm for the final two games of the campaign, he now has the chance to put his stamp on this young Cheetahs side. They come up against a Blue Bulls side that also lost a few veterans at the close of the Super Rugby season. The Cheetahs have a young and exuberant side and with Clayton Blommetjies and Sergel Pietersen among the starting line-up, expect an exhibition of running rugby from the home side. Their opponents for this weekend will be without the services of talisman Arno Botha, who will miss the first few rounds due to a knee injury. Although the Bulls are fielding a youngish looking side, they do have a few overlooked ‘Boks among their ranks who could make the difference in this one. Francois Hougaard in particular will offer the Pretoria side a cool and experienced head to fall back on.
VERDICT: Cheetahs 1/1
The Cheetahs have a good winning history against the Bulls. With the home crowd behind them, Francois Louw’s youngsters should take the spoils in this encounter.