Cheetahs scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and Southern Kings lock JC Astle say that both teams are excited about the upcoming Pro14 season.
The Currie Cup champions will host last season’s finalists, the Glasgow Warriors, in the opening game of the new season on 27 September in Bloemfontein.
The Southern Kings begin their campaign the following day when they face the Cardiff Blues at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
Speaking at a season launch event in Johannesburg, veteran scrumhalf Pienaar – who played a key role in guiding the Free State side to their sixth Currie Cup title – said that the celebrations had concluded and that the team is now keen to compete for the Pro14 title.
‘We are very pleased with how the Currie Cup turned out for us,’ said Pienaar.
‘It has been a great week with a lot of celebrations, but our focus is now on the PRO14, and we are excited to get going.
‘The one thing we know for sure is that winning our home games will be very important, and with our first three matches in Bloemfontein, hopefully we can get the season off to a good start.’
The Cheetahs will be hoping to carry their winning momentum into the new season, after finishing above bottom-placed Italian side Zebre in Conference A last time out.
‘We played eight matches in the Currie Cup and that was great preparation for us,’ continued Pienaar.
‘This competition is a completely different challenge, though, with a different style of rugby, as both South African teams learned in the last two seasons, but we are very excited for this campaign.’
Pienaar, who previously spent seven years at Ulster and played 141 games for the Irish side, went on to say that he has thoroughly enjoyed his time back at home.
‘It is good to be back in Bloemfontein and to play for the team that I supported since I was a little boy. That said, I am looking forward to playing against some of the teams and players that I got to know well over the years in the competition.’
Astle shared Pienaar’s sentiments, saying that his side will take confidence into the new season after narrow defeats in warm-up matches against Georgia and Namibia over recent weeks.
‘We had a good pre-season of about 12 weeks and we played a few warm-up games, so we have really been working hard, and we are excited about the season ahead,’ said the Southern Kings lock.
‘Last season we came close to winning quite a few matches, so we can certainly take confidence from that. But we have a new team, with a few new faces, so hopefully a few more results will go our way.’
Astle said that while the team will be looking to improve their winning record in the competition, a goal has been set to restore the faith their home crowd had in them, by putting in good performances.
‘We are building as a team, and we realise that it takes time to achieve this. But we really want to go out there, play good rugby, win more matches and make the people of Port Elizabeth proud of us.’
Picture: @Pro14Official Twitter