Several new faces in the Currie Cup will get a chance to show off their skills
Golden Lions: The Lions are strong contenders again in this year’s Currie Cup. There is plenty of continuity in the back line with players like Ruan Combrinck, Marnitz Boshoff, Courtnall Skosan and Harold Vorster, but the team will have to introduce new forwards. “Thirteen players who were part of our Super Rugby squad will play for us in the Currie Cup. This is not necessarily a serious blow, but it’s a challenge. We just have to keep our feet on the ground,” coach Johan Ackermann said this week.
Free State Cheetahs:
The Cheetahs have had to dig deep in the past few years to find enough quality players for the Currie Cup.
An overseas exodus, unavailable Boks and a few Griquas who returned to Kimberley after Super Rugby, made space for many newcomers last year.
Things look a bit better this year. The Shimlas won the Varsity Cup and Franco Smith has already worked with several of these students, who can also play. The Smith era brings new blood and a different mind-set that is already evident at the end of Super Rugby.
Depth can still be a challenge, but the Cheetahs should reach the semifinals again this year.
The team’s victory in last year’s Currie Cup series was something of a shock as they were thin on forwards.
But with one of the most effective back-threes in South African rugby, Cheslin Kolbe, Seabelo Senatla and Kobus van Wyk, a venomous series of counter-attacks took them all the way to the final, where they surprised the Golden Lions in a thrilling match.
This time round, Western Province are seriously depleted upfront, so a huge task awaits Rynhardt Elstadt and his team.
Nollis Marais has taken over coaching duties from Frans Ludeke, but expectations are not very high after a disappointing performance in the Super Rugby series.
The Bulls last won the series in 2009 and there will be great pressure at Loftus to break the drought.
Experienced players like Arno Botha, Deon Stegmann and Dean Greyling will play an important role as will the halfback pairing of Tian Schoeman and Francois Hougaard.
With all the turmoil and uncertainty in the camp after a poor Super Rugby series, it’s hard to predict performance.
This is the beginning of a new era for the Sharks and this year’s Currie Cup is likely to be a building process. There are several young players who will get a chance to show their skills.
However, it may take a few years before the Sharks are where they want to be.
When Jimmy Stonehouse resigned as coach at the beginning of the year, many thought the writing was on the wall for the team.
The Pumas tapered off slightly in the later stages of last year’s Currie Cup series – and the initial uncertainty about Stonehouse’s future was disruptive. In retrospect, there was no reason for concern. MJ Mentz immediately made his mark as the new coach and led the team to the Vodacom Cup title.
The return of Super Rugby stars like Giant Mtyanda, Faf de Klerk and Corné Fourie is a huge boost, although the latter two are moving on at the end of the season.
Mentz’s team will be competitive – and will have to punch
above their weight again.
It is evident from the team that played in the recent Currie Cup qualifiers that the Griquas can select a strong squad.
There are names like Tian Meyer, Michael van der Spuy, Danie Mienie, Hilton Lobberts and Riaan Viljoen.
Although they had to fight their way to the premier league, the team has been working together for a fair period while other teams have only had a preseason.
Player injuries are a concern and it is imperative for them to have a good start. But the Griquas should do better than last year’s seventh place.
They are tackling the Currie Cup with a new coach, Brent Janse van Rensburg. In two recent friendlies – against the Blue Bulls and Western Province – the EP Kings looked pretty good under their new mentor. At least most of the young players managed to have a game in last year’s Currie Cup and now know what to expect.
It also looks as if the Kings are better prepared this year.
Kevin Luiters of EP Kings
tries a desperate tackle on Western Province’s Ruan Botha
in last season’s Currie Cup