Our rugby scribe gives his verdict on who will win the 2016 Nashua Currie Cup which kicks off on Friday the 5th of August.
The 2016 Super Rugby season may reach its conclusion this Saturday but fret not rugby fans as the Currie Cup will step in and fill the void left by the world’s premier cross-continent franchise rugby tournament.
The 2016 Nashua Currie Cup gets underway on Friday the 5th of August and runs until mid-October.
The question we're left to ask now is who will win it?
To Win OutrightLions 1/1 | Western Province 7/2 | Bulls 5/1 | Sharks 8/1 | Cheetahs 14/1 | Pumas 33/1 | Griquas 66/1 | Cavaliers 66/1 |Kings/ Leopards (To be added upon release)
2015 Finish: Semi-Finalists
Last year’s Currie Cup squad were a far cry from the lumbering outfit that took to the field during this year’s Super Rugby campaign. The pressure of Super Rugby seemed to get to coach Nollis Marais who opted to take a much more conservative approach into the tournament than he had during last year’s Currie Cup.
There were a few positive signs for the Bulls during their 2016 Super Rugby campaign with their final round robin fixture, against the Free State Cheetahs, proving that they can implement an attacking game plan.
The side from Pretoria will be without a few of their stalwarts for the Currie Cup with both Adrian Straus and Jesse Kriel sure to be on duty for the Springboks during the Rugby Championship.
They do have some talented youngsters on their books who are more than capable of filling the shoes of their unavailable senior players, However. The likes of centre Marquite September and prop Nqobisizwe Mxoli enjoyed stellar qualifying campaigns and will add a lot of depth to the squad.
While they’ve got some talented youngsters rising through the ranks, the key men for the Bulls' will be their back three of Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismael and Warrick Gelant. The trio were incredible during last year’s Currie Cup with Ulengo ending the competition as the top try scorer. They are likely to be the focal point for a much more attacking minded Bulls side.
Player To Watch: Warrick Gelant
I was really sad to see Gelant pick up that long term injury during the Super Rugby season. He’s a brilliant counter-attacker and his link up play with his wingers during last year’s Currie Cup made me suspect that he’s slightly telepathic. I can’t wait to see this man with open field in front of him.
I can see the Bulls enjoying a fabulous campaign. They were under a bit of pressure during the Super Rugby season with results taking preference over playing attractive rugby. The shackles will be cut loose for the Currie Cup, however. I reckon their back three will steer them to the semi-finals.
2015 Finish: Did Not Qualify
While the Cavaliers won’t get anywhere near the top of the log this season, they will provide us with some fantastic viewing. The team from Boland pride themselves on attacking rugby. They also have a pack that is capable of fronting up to the big guns which will go a long way in ensuring they aren’t blown away at Loftus, Kings Park, Newlands or Ellis Park.
The Cavaliers enjoyed a solid qualifying campaign winning 11 of their 14 fixtures which led to them finishing in third position - two points off the second placed Griquas. The majority of their qualifying victories came on home soil and that’s likely to be the case again during the Currie Cup.
Player To Watch: Shaun Adendorff
The bearded flanker is a real throwback – think AJ Venter. He’s aggressive, strong and loves nothing more than making a tackle. He’s also got a handy change of pace as some of his Currie Cup qualifying try's attest to.
Verdict: Round Robin Phase Exit
They will be involved in a few high-scoring thrillers and I fancy them to claim a victory over one of the big boys but I can’t see them finishing anywhere above 6th spot.
Verdict: Last Place
I think the Leopards will struggle to come to terms with their elevation from the first division. They have some really good players in their squad but not enough to be competitive at this level. I fear they will end the tournament at the foot of the table.
Free State Cheetahs
2015 Finish: Semi-Finalists
Free State will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing Super Rugby campaign with a solid showing in the Currie Cup. Franco Smith’s charges struggled to come to terms with the quality of their Super Rugby opposition and only managed to record four wins out of their 15 fixtures.
They were decent value in last year’s Currie Cup pipping the Sharks to a semi-final berth and narrowly going down to the Lions in said semi.
They’ve managed to maintain the core of their Super Rugby squad for the Currie Cup with only Lood de Jaeger and possibly Oupa Mohaje unavailable. They still have an exceedingly competent squad without the two aforementioned players.
Their back three of Clayton Bloemetjies, Sergeal Pietersen and Raymond Rhule will provide the attacking firepower while their halfback pairing of Fred Zeilinga and Shaun Venter are one of the more well-rounded combinations in this year’s tournament.
Player To Watch: William Smal-Smith
The former Junior Bok has endured a bit of a subdued 12 months. I do, however, expect him to make a mark with his robust ball carrying during the tournament.
They’ll thrill and dazzle but their inability to close out a game is likely to cost them in the knockout phase.
2015 Finish: Eighth Place
The Griquas enjoyed a brilliant qualifying series and were unlucky to be pipped to first place by Western Province. Peter Engledow’s side managed to win 11 of their 15 qualifying fixtures and made Griqua Park a real fortress winning all seven of their home fixtures.
They will want to keep Griqua Park’s reputation intact during the Currie Cup. The stadium has become a bit of a bogey ground for the big guns in the tournament with the Griquas garnering some memorable wins in front of their home faithful in recent times.
The men in turquoise and white hoops built quite a reputation during the qualifiers with numerous opposition coaches praising the men from Kimberley’s physicality. They have a rather large midfield that is capable of dominating any opponent’s pairing. They also have a pack that thrives on the set piece.
Player To Watch: Clinton Swart
He can operate at ten or twelve and he’s a massive unit. I cannot wait to see him take on the smaller fly-halves in the competition.
Verdict: Just Miss Out On The Semi-Finals
They are exceedingly competitive in Kimberley and their squad looked decent during the qualifying series. I fancy them to get close to the semi-final places but they’ll just miss out on the knockout phase.
2015 Finish: Champions
The defending champions will come into this one on an absolute high having enjoyed a rather miraculous Super Rugby campaign. While their brilliant run to the 2016 Super Rugby Final may see a few of their players called up to Allister Coetzee’s ‘Boks squad, the Lions still have a plethora of talent to call upon.
With Whiteley, Redelinghyis, Kriel, Mostert, Jantjies, de Klerk, Mapoe, Combrinck, and possibly Marx, Skosan and van Rensburg missing, the Lions' youngsters will have to step up to the mark during the Currie Cup.
The likes of Ruan Ackermann, Cyle Brink, and Jaco van der Walt will all have huge roles to play during the campaign while Howard Mnisi, Ross Cronje and Andries Coetzee will have to offer a solid support base for the youngsters to fall back on.
Player To Watch: Ruan Ackermann
This lad looks like the real deal. He has enjoyed a brilliant Super Rugby campaign despite playing understudy to Warren Whiteley. His physical approach will help fill the void left by Jaco Kriel who will be involved with the 'Boks.
They may be losing a few of their big guns but they’ll still have cool heads like Howard Mnisi and Andries Coetzee around. Factor in young guns such as Jaco Van der Walt, Cyle Brink and Sylvian Mahuza and you’ve got a side who’s capable of retaining their title.
2015 Finish: Sixth Place
The Pumas were the third and final team to qualify for this year’s Currie Cup finishing fourth on the qualifying log. They were decent during the qualifying series but look a far cry from the side that upset the Sharks in last year’s Currie Cup opener.
It is not really a huge surprise to see the Pumas look a bit less menacing than they were last term. The heart and soul of their side, Faf de Klerk, has moved on to bigger and better things while influential centre Stefan Watermeyer has also left the union.
They have a few youngsters who could make a mark in the tournament but they have way too many journeymen for my liking.
Player To Watch: Bernado Botha
The former Blitzbok is yet to reach the heights he was tipped for as a youngster. He’s got the chance to put himself in the shop window and he’ll want nothing more than to pick up a Super Rugby contract offer. His physical approach and great acceleration could see him steal the limelight and get that sort after contract.
Verdict: Seventh Or Eighth Place
They should be a handful at home but I can’t see too many of the big unions slipping up against them.
2015 Finish: Fifth place
I feel 2016 is going to continue to be a year to forget for Sharks fans. The 2016 Super Rugby season was a major disappointment. Their inability to reinvent themselves as an attacking force has been well documented and I can’t really see that changing during the 2016 edition of the Currie Cup.
While the loss of Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen and Marcel Coetzee to the lure of the pound will drastically effect the side, I think the biggest blow has come with Paul Jordaan’s move to France. His partnership with burly inside centre Andre Esterhuizen was starting to blossom and they really would have offered some cohesion to a Sharks’ backline desperately in need of stability.
Player To Watch: Curwin Bosch
The fleet-footed youngster illustrated why there is so much hype surrounding his name with a solid U20 World Championship campaign and a few exciting Super Rugby cameos. He’s got one of the meanest side steps going and his ability on the counter will hopefully ignite this conservative Sharks side.
Verdict: Semi-Finalists At Best
This is going to be another rebuilding season for the Natalians. While Robert du Preez will want his side to have a tilt at the title, I think Natal fans will just be hoping the side keeps ball in hand more.
2015 Finish: Runners-Up
I really fancy this Province side to at least make it to the final. They won’t lose too many players to the Springboks and they have some talented youngsters who are capable of filling the void left by the handful of ‘Bok call-ups.
Province have a really handy looking backline for this year’s competition with youngster’s such as Jean-Luc du Plessis sure to make a mark.
Their forward also has a nice balance about it with Nizaam Carr and Oli Kebble bringing the experience while you guns Wilco Louw and Chad Solomons will bring the exuberance.
After last year’s defeat in the final and their disappointing exit from Super Rugby, this Western Province squad will be looking to repay their home faithful with a trophy. They’ll come into the tournament fired up and ready to end their silverware drought.
Player To Watch: Jean-Luc Du Plessis
I really like the look of this youngster. He took to Super Rugby like a fish to water. His neat little chips and solid passing game are likely to see him grab a few Cape Argus headlines in the coming months.
If du Plessis and du Preez – who I suspect may be used at 12 rather than 10 – can get this backline firing, then the Stormers could well claim 2016 honours.