The EP Kings will be looking to prove their doubters wrong when they host Western Province in Port Elizabeth on Friday night, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
EP Kings vs Western Province
The EP Kings are back in the Currie Cup Premier Division after 12 years, and they are here to stay. They may have a guaranteed spot for the next two seasons, but merely competing will not be enough to satisfy the rugby public in the Eastern Cape. They want success, starting with the match against Western Province on Friday.
With Carlos Spencer at the helm, you can expect a certain amount of flair to their game. On Friday, though, they'll need to be at their best, defensively and offensively, if they are to get across the line against a solid looking Province team.
Allister Coetzee has been handed the luxury of selecting some of his Springbok players, an opportunity that he simply couldn't pass up. Eben Etzebeth will start at lock alongside Argentinian international Manuel Carizza, while Siya Kolisi, Michael Rhodes and Nizaam Carr will be expected to dominate the collisions.
For the Kings, Gary van Aswegan will start in the pivot position against his former team, while Luke Watson will captain the side from the back of the scrum. Steven Cummins starts at lock in place of the injured Steven Sykes, while Springbok prop CJ van der Linde will make his first appearance for the Kings from the bench.
EP Kings – 15 Scott van Breda, 14 Ronnie Cooke, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Tobie Botes, 8 Luke Watson (c), 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Thembelani Bholi, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steven Cummins, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Lizo Gqoboka/BG Uys.
Subs: 16 Albe de Swardt, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Darron Nell, 19 Aidon Davis, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Ntabeni Dukisa.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Jean Kleyn, 19 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Robert du Preez, 22 Pat Howard.
Griquas vs Sharks
The defending champions get their campaign underway with a tricky trip to Kimberley on Saturday. Griquas have proven a notoriously tough nut to crack in the past, where just last year the Sharks went down to their less-fancied opponents in their opening match, albeit at Kings Park.
The Currie Cup campaign brings with it a new coach and captain for the Sharks. Laboured and one-dimensional at times during the Super Rugby campaign, there should be more tempo about Brad Macleod-Henderson's Sharks team.
Paul Jordaan and S'bura Sithole will form a dynamic centre combination, on paper at least. There are some perceived weak spots, though, with scrumhalf and loose forward cover looking decidedly thin. Sharks Academy product Cameron Wright will make his debut in the No 9 jersey, while Etienne Oosthuizen will add some muscle to the Sharks' loose trio.
Griquas earned their place in the competition after coming through the qualifiers and coach Hawies Fourie has retained faith with many of the players who got them to this point. This one should be Currie Cup rugby at its uncompromising best.
Griquas – 15 Nico Scheepers, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Wayne Stevens (c), 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Hilton Lobberts, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Willem Serfontein, 3 Maks Van Dyk, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Steph Roberts.
Subs: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Ewald Van Der Westhuizen, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Abrie Griesel, 21 Marais Schmidt, 22 Edries Arendse.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Tera Mtembu (c), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Marco Wentzel, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 JC Astle, 20 Francois Kleinhans, 21 Hanco Venter, 22 Lionel Cronjé.
Golden Lions vs Blue Bulls
These two teams finished the Super Rugby season with seven wins apiece. While the Lions considered that number an achievement, for the Bulls it was a failure. Frans Ludeke will get a chance to get the union back on the right track, but he can ill afford a repeat of last year's dismal Currie Cup campaign.
For the Lions, they retain the core of the players who did so well for them earlier this year and will be hoping to challenge for the title come the end of the season.
Johan Ackermann has opted to stick with the much of the side that did duty for him during the Super Rugby season. Warren Whitelely will continue in his role as captain, while Marnitz Boshoff's goal and line-kicking will keep the Lions on the front foot.
The Bulls look a much more balanced side than they did during the Super Rugby season, with captain Deon Stegmann a more natural openside flank. Tuks centre Burger Odendaal will get his first start at inside centre, while SA U20 players Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and Jesse Kriel will make their Currie Cup debuts from the bench.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Ruan Combrink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 MB Lusaseni, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Ricky Schroeder, 21 Jaco van der Walt, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Blue Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Jono Ross, 6 Deon Stegmann (c), 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Wiaan Liebenberg, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Tony Jantjies, 22 Jesse Kriel.
Pumas vs Free State Cheetahs
The Pumas earned their place in this season's competition after coming out on top in their promotion-relegation match against Griquas last year. They start their campaign in Nelspruit against a new-look Free State Cheetahs side. A change in coaching staff and an exodus of established players means that the Cheetahs come into this year's tournament as something of an unknown entity.
Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse has opted to utilise his Super Rugby players for their opening match, with the Lions' Stefan Watermeyer and JW Jonker brought in to shore up his midfield. Experienced campaigner Corné Steenkamp will captain the side and in Namibian international Renaldo Bothma, they have a player capable of causing damage on both attack and defence.
Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan's first team selection has something of an experimental look about it. Former Tuks flyhalf Willie du Plessis starts in the No 10 jersey ahead of Elgar Watts, while former SA U20 player Francois Venter will start at outside centre.
It is up front, though, that the Cheetahs have made a number of changes. Injuries and Springbok selection have necessitated an overhaul of the front row, while Boom Prinsloo and Francois Uys are the only players to feature consistently during their Super Rugby campaign.
Pumas – 15 JW Bell, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rosco Spekman, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jaco Bouwer, 6 Corné Steenkamp (c), 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Frikkie Spies, 3 Dejay Terblanche, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Vincent Koch.
Subs: 16 Frankie Herne, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 19 Uzair Cassiem, 20 Sinoyuvo Nyoka, 21 JC Roos, 22 Jerome Pretorius.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 AJ Coertzen, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Neil Claasen, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Kevin Stevens.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenburg, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Renier Botha, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 JP du Plessis.
Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images