DYLAN JACK previews each of the seven teams taking part in this year’s shortened Currie Cup campaign.
The defending champions will be coached by Sean Everitt this year, as the longtime servant of Sharks rugby replaces Robert du Preez. That should provide the Durban-based side with a feeling of freshness after their Vodacom Super Rugby campaign ended on a disappointing note. Furthermore, the Sharks have been boosted by the return of stalwart JP Pietersen from France, after his contract with Toulon was not renewed. Pietersen will add plenty in the way of on-field experience and off-field guidance to what could be a young backline with both Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi on international duty. The Sharks will also be without the Du Preez brothers, André Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Akker van der Merwe, Beast Mtawarira and Coenie Oosthuizen, to name a few, but that should provide opportunities for the spine of promising young players Everitt has been coaching at U19 level. Curwin Bosch also has a much-needed opportunity for a free run at the No 10 jersey, which he has had to share with Rob du Preez, who has left for Manchester. Look out for Junior Springboks captain Phendulani Buthelezi and lock JJ van der Mescht, who could both play an extended role in the side.
Last year’s finalists will once again be under John Dobson, who should already be looking to lay a platform ahead of the start of his reign over the Stormers next year. One of the key challenges for Dobson will be to ensure continuity in his squad with Springboks such as Siya Kolisi likely to be in and out of the team as they look for game time ahead of the World Cup. As it is, Dobson still has quite an experienced squad to work with, as a number of players were able to pick up game time during the Stormers’ injury-hit finish to Super Rugby. Young tighthead Carlu Sadie has also returned to the Cape after a successful loan stint with the Lions, boosting an already strong front row. If Province can get off to a strong start, they could be set for another charge at the title.
Free State Cheetahs
After suffering the ignominy of finishing as 2018’s wooden-spoonists and having to play in a promotion-relegation tie against the SWD Eagles, the Cheetahs have a point to prove. Unlike in 2018, the Cheetahs will not have to split their squad between the Currie Cup and Pro14, which was a major contributor to their performances last year. Instead, outgoing coach Franco Smith can use the Currie Cup to get the Cheetahs’ key players into top form before Hawies Fourie takes over for the Pro14 in September. As a further positive, the Cheetahs don’t yet seem to have suffered the mass exodus as they have in previous years, with scrumhalves Sean Venter and Rudy Paige the only key players heading overseas. It should be a much-improved effort from the Cheetahs, which should have them finish in the top four this year.
The Bulls are possibly the team who have suffered the most from international call-ups and a player exodus to Europe and Japan. As expected, a host of Springboks, including Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits and Handré Pollard will be unavailable, while Hanro Liebenberg (Leicester Tigers, England), Eli Snyman (Treviso, Italy), Hendré Stassen (Stade Français, France) and Travis Ismaiel all left for Europe. However, the Bulls will still have a more than competitive squad, with flyhalf Manie Libbok looking to impress after a mixed Super Rugby campaign, with the pressure of replacing Pollard likely to be on his shoulders next season. The scrumhalf trio of Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl and André Warner will also all be available, but with only six games in the season (not counting playoffs) it will be interesting to see how coach Pote Human juggles that selection.
The Lions will again be under Ivan van Rooyen, with Super Rugby coach Swys de Bruin involved with the Springbok camp. The Johannesburg side have also suffered something of an exodus, particularly in their backline, where Nic Groom, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrinck, Harold Vorster, Franco Naude and Sylvian Mahuza have departed. That does, however, provide a good opportunity for youngsters such as Wandisile Simelane and Tyrone Green to step up. An interesting point will surround the selection of Hacjivah Dayimani. The 21-year-old was utilised mainly as a loose forward in his first year with the Lions, but things seem to have changed as he has been trialed as a midfielder in both the Super Rugby and Provincial Rugby Challenge. As he is entering a key stage in his development, a decision will need to be made over whether his future is as a forward or back. Otherwise, the Lions do have a promising squad, with Cyle Brink adding a good amount of power to the pack after missing out on Springbok selection.
After narrowly missing out on a top-four place, the Pumas will want to make the playoffs this year. Again under the tutelage of Jimmy Stonehouse, the Mpumalanga-based team does have a squad capable of ruffling a few feathers. The union’s danger players include wing Ruwellyn Isbell, flyhalf Chris Smith and midfielder Ryan Nell.
The Provincial Rugby Challenge champions will be looking to build on their triumph earlier this year and, much like the Pumas, could provide a banana-peel result should they be underestimated by one of the stronger unions. Griquas also have a mastermind coach in Brent Janse van Rensburg, who was reportedly in high demand after he left the Pumas last year. With the likes of lock Victor Sekekete and prop Khwezi Mona, Griquas have a pack that can lay a solid base for the likes of experienced flyhalf George Whitehead and wing Enver Brandt to operate from. They should be looking to make their home ground a fortress, with Kimberley a notoriously difficult place to visit.
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