• Currie Cup preview (Round 1)

    Western Province will be looking to make a statement of intent as they begin their Currie Cup campaign against the Blue Bulls at Loftus on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    Blue Bulls vs Western Province

    Province did well to progress to the final of last year’s competition under the guidance of new coach John Dobson, with the Cape-based side securing an impressive win over the Blue Bulls in their 2015 semi-final.

    WP ultimately fell short against the high-flying Lions, but should feel confident that a talented young squad can compete strongly once again this season. As it is, WP comfortably finished top of the Currie Cup Qualifier standings this year.

    Six U21 players have been included in Province’s match 22 for Friday’s game, but they also boast the experience of Super Rugby players such as Scarra Ntubeni, Rynhardt Elstadt and Robert du Preez.

    Bulls coach Nollis Marais has been able to select an experienced squad, with a particularly formidable back three that includes Bjorn Basson, Jade Stighling and Jamba Ulengo.

    This is a result that could go either way, and while the Bulls should be expected to come out on top at home, Province can send out a resounding early-season statement by starting their campaign with a win in Pretoria.

    Blue Bulls – 15  Bjorn Basson, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Entienne Swanepoel, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
    Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Nqoba Mxoli, 18 Eli Snyman, 19 Hanro Liebenberg, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Tony Jantjies, 22 Dan Kriel.

    Western Province – 15 Scott van Breda, 14 Khanyo Ngcukana, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Daniel du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Jacques Vermeulen, 7 Jurie van Vuuren, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Chris van Zyl (c), 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
    Subs: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 JP Smith, 19 Kobus van Dyk, 20 Godlen Masimla, 21 Brandon Thomson, 22 Johnny Kotzé.

    Pumas vs Sharks

    The Pumas earned inclusion in the Premier Division when they finished as one of the top three non-Super Rugby sides during the qualifying competition, and they’ll be determined to prove that they belong when they host the Sharks on Saturday.

    The Pumas have SA A flyhalf Francois Brummer in their starting lineup, and his performance will be key to the hosts’ cause, while Junior Springbok star Curwin Bosch has a great opportunity to show what he can do for the Sharks at No 10.

    The Sharks do boast a strong side that includes experienced players such as Odwa Ndungane and Keegan Daniel, while there are also opportunities for exciting youngsters such as Lukhanyo Am and Neil Maritz.

    It’s a clash that the Sharks should be backed to win, but they also won’t have forgotten their 33-24 defeat to the Pumas in Nelspruit in the first round of last year’s competition.

    Pumas – 15 Justin van Staden, 14 JP Lewis, 13 Hennie Skorbinski, 12 Marlou van Niekerk, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu/Marnus Schoeman, 5 Hugo Kloppers (c), 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Dee-Jay Terblanche, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 Kwezi Mona.
    Subs: 16 Swys du Toit, 17 Yskas Kotzé, 18 Wiehan Hay,19 Brian Shabangu/Marnus Schoeman, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Devon Williams, 22 Deon Helberg.

    Sharks – 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Neil Maritz, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Dale Chadwick.
    Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Ruan Botha, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Inny Radebe, 22 Heimar Williams.

    Boland Cavaliers vs Free State Cheetahs

    The Cheetahs have named a powerful side for Saturday’s clash with Boland, with the Free State outfit once again boasting good continuity from Super Rugby.

    They have a particularly strong backline, which sees the return of captain Francois Venter, and they’re sure to look to embrace their typically ambitious style of play on Saturday.

    However, the Cheetahs will also need to be wary of a much-improved Boland side that impressed during the Currie Cup qualifying competition, with the Cavaliers winning 11 games and losing just three.

    Boland are making their first appearance in the Premier Division since 2009, and will be determined to make a good impression, but this is a match the Cheetahs should win quite comfortably.

    Boland Cavaliers – TBC

    Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Neill Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
    Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Justin Basson, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Ryno Benjamin.

    Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images

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    Craig Lewis