The Cheetahs will kick off their Currie Cup title defence against the Sharks as the Premier Division reverts to a seven-team format for the 2017 season.
On Wednesday SA Rugby confirmed the 2017 schedule, with the world’s oldest domestic rugby championship no longer including nine participating teams as was the case last year.
The Boland Cavaliers and Eastern Province Kings have been cut from the Premier Division, allowing for a strength versus strength competition which will see the seven remaining teams play each other at home and away.
The decision to start the Currie Cup earlier than originally planned and to do away with the proposed midweek matches will see the opening rounds overlap with the Super Rugby playoffs.
The Free State Cheetahs will kick off the 2017 Currie Cup season against the Sharks in Bloemfontein on 21 July, while the opening round will also see the Blue Bulls take on Griquas in Kimberley on 22 July. The Pumas will host the Golden Lions in Nelspruit on the 23rd, with Western Province enjoying a bye in the first round.
The semi-finals in the Premier Division are scheduled for the weekend of 21 October, while the final will be on Saturday, 28 October. Additionally, finals of the Provincial U19 and U21 competitions will also commence on the 28th.
The Currie Cup First Division, which will be contested by the Griffons, Valke, Leopards, Boland, Border Bulldogs, EP Kings, SWD Eagles and Welwitschias, starts on the last weekend in August. The semi-finals will be played on 14 October and the final on 20 October.
‘The recent changes to the Currie Cup format are hugely exciting and the countdown has now truly begun to what promises to be another thrilling competition of high-class South African provincial rugby,’ said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.
‘Returning to a seven-team Premier Division format, with all teams facing each other at home and away, will bring about a more intense, strength-versus-strength competition, and the fact that we’ve re-introduced a promotion challenge series between the winner of the First Division against the last-placed Premier Division team, will add to the excitement.
‘As the Premier Division will be played by seven teams over a double round of matches, it was difficult to fit all of the encounters into the existing playing window. The franchise committee’s recommendation was to bring the kick-off of the competition forward – even though there may be an overlap with Super Rugby playoffs for some teams.
‘They preferred this model to playing multiple midweek matches, which had also been on the table. The franchise teams that are likely to be affected have factored it into their planning,’ he concluded.
Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images