The Blue Bulls and Free State Cheetahs will be looking to make a statement of intent as they begin their Currie Cup campaigns under the guidance of new coaches, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Free State Cheetahs vs Blue Bulls
With Frans Ludeke and Naka Drotské having parted way with the Bulls and Cheetahs, Nollis Marais and Franco Smith will take charge in the Currie Cup for the first time.
Marais has spoken of the Bulls embracing a new mindset where they will look to keep ball in hand more, and having selected a youthful new-look side, it will be interesting to see how effectively they execute this approach.
Smith took charge of the last couple of games in the Vodacom Super Rugby season, and he won’t have forgotten how the Cheetahs thrashed the Bulls 42-19 in their final fixture of the season. However, it should be a far tighter affair this time around.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Gerhard Olivier, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Willem Serfontein, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Neil Rautenbach, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Maks van Dyk, 18 BG Uys, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Tienie Burger, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Fred Zeilinga.
Blue Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (c), 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Nqoba Mxoli, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Roelof Smit, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Dries Swanepoel.
Griquas vs Western Province
Western Province will also begin their title defence with a new coach at the helm as John Dobson steps into the breach after the departure of Allister Coetzee.
Province have struggled in a couple of warm-up games, but Dobson has been able to select an impressive looking side.
With Super Rugby players such as Cheslin Kolbe, Juan de Jongh, Demetri Catrakilis, Nizaam Carr and Rynhardt Elstadt at his disposal, Dobson should feel confident in his side’s ability to begin their campaign with a victory.
Kimberley is always a tricky destination for travelling teams, though, and with Griquas riding a wave of momentum after their Currie Cup qualification, it could turn out to be an interesting season-opener.
Griquas – 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Ntabeni Dukisa, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Nardus van der Walt, 6 RJ Liebenberg, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Jonathan Adendorf, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 AJ le Roux, 1 Danie Mienie.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Stephan Kotze, 18 Jaco Nepgen, 19 Leon Karemaker, 20 Rudi van Rooyen, 21 Jacquin Jansen, 22 Ngcobo Sandile.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble.
Subs: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Chris Cloete, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Johnny Kotzé, 23 Charlie van Jaarsveld.
Pumas vs Sharks
The Sharks are another team with plenty to prove after their disappointing Super Rugby season, and there's a fair amount of fresh blood in their side named to take on the Pumas.
With Gary Gold continuing at the helm and enjoying his first proper pre-season with the team, there's been a quiet confidence emanating from the Shark Tank.
A trip to Nelspruit presents a potential banana peel fixture first up, but it’s hard to see the Sharks slipping up, particularly considering Gold has been able to field a side with a strong blend between youth and experience. Also consider for a moment that each member of their bench has experienced Super Rugby before.
Pumas – 15 John-Wessel Bell, 14 Bernado Botha, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Stefan Watermeyer (c), 11 Rosco Speckman, 10 Juan-Claude Roos, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Lambert Groenewald, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Giant Mtyanda, 4 Rudi Mathee, 3 De-Jay Terblanché, 2 Frank Herne, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Subs: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Jason-Colin Fraser, 20 Reynier van Rooyen, 21 Justin van Staden, 22 Hoffmann Maritz.
Sharks – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Wandile Mjekevu, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 André Esterhuizen, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Monde Hadebe, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 David McDuling, 19 Daniel du Preez, 20 Francois Kleinhans, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 SP Marais.
EP Kings vs Golden Lions
The Golden Lions have an opportunity to assert their pre-tournament status as possible Currie Cup favourites when they take on the EP Kings in Port Elizabeth.
Boasting valuable continuity from an impressive Super Rugby season, the Lions have the look of a side that will strongly contend for the domestic title once again this year.
Last year’s runners-up will look to a strong pack to once again lay the foundation for a talented backline that includes the likes of Marnitz Boshoff and Howard Mnisi.
A big win for the Lions over a Kings side that will have their own ambitions would certainly serve as a serious statement.
Golden Lions – 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 MB Lusaseni, 19 Steph de Wit, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Stokkies Hanekom, 22 Jaco van der Walt.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images