Currie Cup Round One - teams and predictions
SATURDAY & SUNDAY PREVIEWS: ‘When two Bulls clash, only the grass suffers.”
With this little gem, new Bulls Currie Cup coach Edgar Marutlulle put, in a nutshell, his team’s clash with the defending champion Pumas at Loftus Versfeld on Sunday – an encounter that concludes the opening weekend of South Africa’s premier domestic competition.
“They are the Currie Cup champions and no one can take that away from them,” Marutlulle told @rugby365com.
“We are excited about the opportunity to tackle them on Sunday,” he added.
The Bulls left no doubt about their intentions, going fully loaded into the opening round – naming a powerful side.
“We are definitely going to take it to them,” Marutlulle said.
The Pumas’ celebrated coach Jimmy Stonehouse said he was also ‘looking forward’ to the challenge of a new season – despite the departure of some key players.
The players that featured in the Final and are no longer on the Pumas’ books are headlined by captain Willie Engelbrecht (now with the Stormers).
“I see all the main franchises are entering very powerful line-ups,” Stonehouse said, ahead of the start of his team’s title defence.
“The start of the season will be massive, as none of the [main] franchises plays and United Rugby Championship games in the next fortnight.”
The affable coach told @rugby365com that he is preparing for a massive onslaught from a URC-loaded Bulls team.
“Given that they have lost a few [URC] games recently, they are desperate for a win,” the Pumas coach said.
“[Director of Rugby] Jake White will also like to keep his top players in good shape – giving them game time,” he added.
The other advantage the Bulls have over the Cheetahs is that the Pretoria outfit has been playing in first-class competitions since last year, while the Pumas’ only activity since winning the Final was three warm-up matches.
Marutlulle said he expects nothing less that a ‘typical Stonehouse’ performance from the Nelspruit outfit.
“You don’t even need to see the team sheet to know that they will be well-conditioned, come around the corner very hard – playing an abrasive style,” the Bulls coach said.
“We all respect Jimmy’s team.
“The ID of the Pumas has been the same for the last 15 years,” he added.
(Article continues below the Edgar Marutlulle interview ...)
* Ellis Park will be the venue for another big clash – when the Lions hope to continue their resurgent United Rugby Championship form when they host Western Province on Saturday.
Having finished bottom of the standings last year, with just two wins from 12 outings, the Lions have loaded their team with URC players –
The likes of Morné van den Berg, Sibusiso Sangweni, Pieter Janse van Vuren, Ruan Smith, Jaco Visagie and Sithembiso Sithole give the home team a hard edge.
Mzwakhe Nkosi, now in his second season as Currie Cup coach at the Lions, said last year the ‘timing’ of the domestic season was problematic for the unions – having started in January and being well underway by March.
“Also, last year, there was a massive focus by South African teams to make an impression on the URC,” Nkosi told @rugby365com.
“The unions have put their heads together to see how we can best manage the two competitions – the Currie Cup and URC. Also, the scheduling is a lot better.”
The result is stronger Currie Cup teams, an indication that the unions have placed a bigger premium on the Currie Cup.
Captain Travis Gordon said the Lions URC team’s back-to-back wins have lifted the spirit throughout the franchise.
WP captain Ernst van Rhyn said a trip up to the Highveld is always a challenge, with the start of a new competition bringing some additional ‘uncertainty’.
He pointed out that the Lions have loaded their pack with experience.
“The set pieces will be important,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “With it being the start of the season we focused a lot on ourselves.
“There are certain things that helped us win the URC and things that are in our DNA. We are going to try and build thus campaign on that DNA.”
WP backs coach Dawie Snyman echoed similar sentiments to his coaching counterpart – admitting that there is a bigger focus on the Currie Cup this year.
“It is great to see that teams are giving the Currie Cup a full go,” Snyman added.
“It is very important that the Currie Cup is strong.”
* Durban is the venue where the Griffons will make their comeback to the country’s premier competition after almost two seasons in the second tier.
Now being coached by Joey Mongalo, the Sharks also had a disappointing 2022 campaign – missing out on the play-offs.
Their change in focus can be found in the inclusion of seasoned players like Yaw Penxe, Anthony Volmink, Lionel Cronje, Thembelani Bholi and Carlu Sadie.
Mongalo, in a head coaching position in Durban after defensive roles with the Lions and Bulls, said there was a “nervous excitement” ahead of the start of the season.
The coach said they don’t want the players to ‘overthink’ the game, but rather just ‘bring the effort’.
“Some of our best juniors are getting a look, some club players in Durban who never thought they would play Currie Cup are getting a look and then you have a Lionel Cronje who has seen this picture so often,” he told @rugby365com.
“The key is, how quickly can we settle? How quickly can we find cohesion?”
Mongalo said people should not question the merits and value of the Currie Cup, as other countries would love to have such a competition to blood new talent in.
“If you offered Dave Nucifora, the head of rugby in Ireland, a competition where his next best players, coaches and management can be in a high-pressure situation for 16 weeks in a row, he would jump on it.
“In Afrikaans, there is a saying: ‘Moet nie kla met die wit brood onder die arm’ [Don’t complain when you have such a luxury]
“We have a great product and there is no need for us to look down on the Currie Cup.
“It’s the place where the next best guys can go to the URC and become Springboks.
“It is a breeding ground and I am very proud to be coaching in this competition.
“I feel very strongly about it being elevated to the prestige it deserves.”
All the Saturday and Sunday teams and predictions follow below …
Saturday, March 11
Sharks v Griffons
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 13.30; 11.30 GMT)
@rugby365com: Sharks by 15 points
Sharks: 15 Nevaldo Fleurs, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Marnus Potgieter, 12 Murray Koster (captain), 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Zee Mkhabela, 8 Celimpilo Gumede, 7 Siyambuku Ningiza, 6 Tino Mavesere, 5 Ockie Barnard, 4 Thembelani Bholi, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Fezokuhle Mbatha, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Masikane Mazwi, 17 Dian Bleuler, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Athenkosi Khetahani, 20 Marco de Wit, 21 Damien Royal, 22 Bradley Davids, 23 Alwayno Visagie.
Griffons: 15 Dommenic Smit, 14 Duren Hoffman, 13 Carel-Jan Coetzee, 12 Marquit September, 11 Granwill Matthys, 10 Duan Pretorius, 9 Jaywinn Juries, 8 Soso Xakalashe, 7 Jean-Jacques Pretoruis, 6 Thato Mavundla, 5 Michael Benadie, 4 Jaco Willemse, 3 Doctor Booysen, 2 Dandre Delport, 1 Stephan De Jager.
Replacements: 16 HP Van Schoor, 17 Xolani Jacobs, 18 Neo Mohapi, 19 Wikus Nieuwenhuis, 20 Ludio Williams, 21 Ethan Williams, 22 Robbie Petzer, 23 Keanu Vers.
Referee: Christopher Allison
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Archie Sehlako
Lions v Western Province
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 15.30; 13.30 GMT)
@rugby365com: Western Province by eight points
Lions: 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Matt More, 12 Tyler Bocks, 11 Boldwin Hansen, 10 Vaughan Isaacs, 9 Morné van den Berg, 8 Travis Gordon (captain), 7 Ruan Delport, 6 Sibusiso Sangweni, 5 Darrien-Lane Landsberg, 4 Pieter Janse van Vuren, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Morgan Naudé, 18 Kabous Bezuidenhout, 19 Raynard Roets, 20 Ruhan Straeuli, 21 Jarod Cairns, 22 Nico Steyn, 23 Zeilinga Strydom.
Western Province: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Angelo Davids, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 11 Duncan Saal, 10 Kade Wolhuter, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Keke Morabe, 7 Ben-Jason Dixon, 6 Marcel Theunissen, 5 Connor Evans, 4 Ernst van Rhyn (captain), 3 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Kwenzo Blose.
Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Dylan de Leeuw, 20 Louwan Horn, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Bruce Sherwood, 23 Suleiman Hartzenberg.
Referee: Griffin Colby
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen
Sunday, March 12
Bulls v Pumas
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 13.00; 11.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Bulls by nine points
Bulls: 15 Wandisile Simelane, 14 Sibongile Novuka, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 David Kriel, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Morné Steyn (captain), 9 Bernard van der Linde, 8 Mihlali Mosi, 7 Reinhardt Ludwig, 6 Phumzile Maqondwana, 5 Ruan Vermaak, 4 Jacques Du Plessis, 3 Francois Klopper, 2 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Joe van Zyl, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Cameron Hanekom, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Sebastian de Klerk, 13 Diego Appollis, 12 Ali Mgijima, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Giovan Snyman, 8 Kwanda Dimaza, 7 Francois Kleinhans, 6 Andre Fouché, 5 Shane Kirkwood (captain), 4 Deon Slabbert, 3 Njabulo Gumede, 2 Eduan Swart, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements – from: 16 Llewellyn Classen, 17 Etienne Janeke, 18 Simon Raw, 19 Malembe Mpofu, 20 Ruwald van der Merwe, 21 Chriswill September, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Lundi Msenge, 24 Ignatius Prinsloo, 25 Jacques Momberg, 26 Jaco Labuschagne, 27 Gene Willemse.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen