Currie Cup, Round One - teams and predictions
The Bulls start the defence of their Currie Cup title with a tricky trip to Nelspruit, where they will face a charged-up Pumas team determined to kick on from last year – where they came within a late penalty of reaching the semifinals.
Friday’s season-opener at the Mbombela Stadium will set the stage for a tournament that is on the verge of becoming a development campaign.
The other two matches in the opening round are scheduled for Saturday in Bloemfontein, Cheetahs versus Griquas, and Cape Town, where Western Province host the Lions.
The Sharks, last year’s finalists, have a bye in the first round.
Bulls coach Gert Smal said the Currie Cup should remain the prestigious event it has been for more than a century and should never be reduced to some secondary event.
“We would like to always make it special for ourselves, the young players and the supporter,” the former Springbok flank in an online media briefing.
He added that they are working hard behind the scenes with the senior players, to ensure their experience is shared with the youngsters and “raise the standard of the competition to what it was in the past”.
“It is still very important for us.”
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Smal selected a strong starting XV and an exciting group of replacements on the bench.
“We have put in some good, hard work over the past few weeks in preparation for the Currie Cup, which promises to be a tough competition yet again this season.
“We are looking forward to seeing all of that work come together this weekend,” Smal added.
“The Pumas, particularly on their own turf in Mbombela, have always proven to be a tough opposition.
“We know Jimmy Stonehouse’s teams are always highly motivated.
“We have no doubts that our match on Friday will be another hard-fought battle to kick-off the tournament.”
Skipper Cornal Hendricks added that the Pumas always have “a lot of energy” at home and they are expecting a “very physical” encounter.
* With rainy weather expected in Bloemfontein on Saturday, the Cheetahs will rely on the educated boots of skipper Ruan Pienaar, fellow veteran Springbok Frans Steyn and fullback Clayton Blommetjies against Griquas.
The playmaking duties will go to utility back Chris Smit – who has featured in the midfield as often as he has at flyhalf – but will wear the No.10 jersey in Bloemfontein.
Having had a ‘warm-up’ run in the Challenge series in November, coach Hawies Fourie believes they will head into the season-opener with a lot of confidence.
“It has been a close contest against the Griquas in the last couple of games and we want to rectify that,” Fourie said.
“We have a quality team and I feel that we owe it to ourselves to do well on Saturday.
Skipper Ruan Pienaar said he felt the Cheetahs made “a lot of good progress” in their matches in November.
“That will stand us in good stead going forward,” he told @rugby365com.
“It is an exciting team we have.
“Griquas are a tough challenge first up. We have a lot of respect for Griquas.
“We will have to be clinical and if we can keep the bulk of the squad fit we can look forward to a good season.”
* Western Province coach Jerome Paarwater said that his team is determined to start their campaign with an energetic performance against the Lions at home.
“We have had good preparations leading up to this game, working closely with the Stormers squad, so we are looking forward to the challenge and to playing in front of a crowd again,” the coach said.
“We have a nice balance of youth and experience in the team, with four players in starting team making their debut and a few more on the bench, so it will be good to see what these combinations can do,” he added.
Friday, January 14
Pumas v Bulls
(Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit – Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Bulls by 12 points
Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Tapiwa Mafura, 13 Sebastain de Klerk, 12 Robbie Petzer, 11 Lundi Msenge, 10 Thinus de Beer, 9 Giovan Snyman, 8 Willie Engelbrecht (captain), 7 Khwezi Mafu, 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Darrien Landsberg, 4 Shane Kirkwood, 3 Ignatius Prinsloo, 2 Eduan Swart, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Llewellyn Classen, 17 Ruan Kramer, 18 Simon Raw, 19 Malembe Mpofu, 20 Phumzile Maqondwana, 21 Lucky Dlepu, 22 Eddie Fouche, 23 Alwayno Visagie.
Bulls: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 David Kriel, 12 Cornal Hendricks (captain), 11 Richard Kriel, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Jaco Labuschagne, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Robert Hunt, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 WJ Steenkamp, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Juan Mostert, 23 Stedman Gans.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron, Local
TMO: Quinton Immelman
Saturday, January 15
Cheetahs v Griquas
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 14.30; 12.30 GMT)
@rugby365com: Cheetahs by nine points
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Craig Barry, 13 David Brits, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Enver Brandt, 10 Chris Smit, 9 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 8 Mihlali Mosi, 7 Aidon Davis, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Marné Coetzee, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Sergio Moreira, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Rewan Kruger, 22 Robert Ebersohn, 23 Malcolm Jaer.
Griquas: 15 Ashlon Davids 14 Munier Hartzenberg, 13 Christopher Hollis, 12 Rynhardt Jonker, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Zander du Plessis, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruan Steenkamp (captain), 7 Siba Qoma, 6 Niel Otto, 5 Derik Pretorius, 4 Mzwanele Zito, 3 Janu Botha, 2 Alandre van Rooyen, 1 Eddie Davids.
Replacements: 16 Janco Uys, 17 Kudzwai Dube, 18 Justin Forwood, 19 Johan Retief, 20 Michael Amiras, 21 Raegan Oranje, 22 Theo Boshoff, 23 Sango Xamlashe.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Griffin Colby and Clearance Khumalo
TMO: Ben Crouse
Western Province v Lions
(Cape Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Western Province by seven points
Western Province: 15 Tristan Leyds, 14 Angelo Davids, 13 Leolin Zas, 12 Cornel Smit, 11 Paschal Ekeji, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Thomas Bursey, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Simon Miller, 6 Nama Xaba (captain), 5 Adre Smith, 4 Connor Evans, 3 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 2 Chad Solomon, 1 Kwenzo Blose.
Replacements: 16 Jacques van Zyl, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Keke Morabe, 20 Deon Fourie, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Chris Schreuder, 23 Mnombo Zwelendaba.
Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Boldwin Hansen, 13 James Mollentze, 12 Aidynn Cupido, 11 Zeilinga Strydom, 10 Vaughen Isaacs, 9 Jurich Claasens, 8 Emmanuel Tshituka, 7 Jarod Cairns, 6 Mark Snyman, 5 Simon Dionisio, 4 Peter-John Steenkamp, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye (captain), 2 Dameon Venter, 1 Banele Mthenjane.
Replacements: 16 Darnell Osuagwu, 17 Heiko Pohlmann, 18 Sibusiso Shongwe, 19 Ruan Venter, 20 Lunga Ncube, 21 MJ Pelser, 22 Nico Steyn, 23 Tyler Bocks.
Referee: AM Jacobs
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Local
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen