The 82nd edition of the Currie Cup kicks off this weekend with the Jukskei Derby headlining Saturday's action.
The 82nd edition of the Currie Cup kicks off this weekend with the Jukskei Derby headlining Saturday's action while the defending champs travel to Kimberley.
The new, expanded eight-team format sees the EP Kings return to the top division for the first time in 12 years as they kick off the action ato home to last year's losing finalists, Western Province.
The opening weekend rounds off with a tricky trip north for the Cheetahs, who must face an ambitious Pumas side on the Lowveld.
Read the tournament preview here.
Friday, 8 August – Kick-off: Local (GMT)
EP Kings v Western Province – 19h00 (17h00)
Saturday, 9 August
Griquas v Sharks – 14h45 (12h45)
Golden Lions v Blue Bulls – 17h00 (15h00)
Pumas v Free State Cheetahs – 19h00 (17h00)
Griquas v Sharks
GWK Park, Kimberley
The Sharks have promised top play a more exciting brand of rugby than the suffocation tactics employed during Super Rugby.
With most of the Sharks' Super Rugby pack either called up to the national team or moving overseas, coach Brad McLeod-Henderson will be forced to go for a more expansive approach and will look to newly-appointed skipper Tera Mtembu to lead the way.
Keep an eye out for debutant scrum-half Cameron Wright as well as Durban-born former British and Irish Lions prop Matt Stevens, who will feature off the bench.
The home side will be hoping to repeat their heroics of last season when they defeated the Sharks in Durban.
Griquas regained entry to the top-flight after just managing to hold off the Leopards in a thrilling qualifying competition and coach Hawies Fourie and his team will be relishing the prospects of facing the defending champions in their first match.
With a settled team that has been playing together for weeks, they'll provide a very stiff challenge.
“The Sharks certainly haven't travelled well to Kimberley over the last few years and that is something we want to rectify,” said Sharks assistant coach Sean Everett.
“Last year when we went to Kimberley we were fortunate to escape with a win after they beat us in the first-round match in Durban.
“If we can get the upper hand up front, or at least get parity, we will do well against them – we know what Griquas did to us at Kings Park last year when they got on top in the forward exchanges.”
Griquas: 15 Nico Scheepers, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Wayne Stevens, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Hilton Lobberts, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Boela Serfontein, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Abrie Griesel, 21 Marais Schmidt, 22 Ederies 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.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Dale Chadwick , 18 Matt Stevens, 19 JC Astle, 20 Francois Kleinhans, 21 Hanco Venter, 22 Lionel Cronje.
Assistant Referees: Louwrens van der Merwe, Francois de Bruin
Golden Lions v Blue Bulls
Ellis Park, Johannesburg
The Lions will run out in special navy blue jerseys as they commemorate the Union's 125th anniversary.
The navy jersey is known to be the inaugural Transvaal jersey, first officially registered in the 1895 Currie Cup. These were the colours of Diggers Rugby Club at the time. The Lions switched to their red and white design in 1933.
Under coach Johan Ackermann the Lions have developed into a formidable unit when playing at Ellis Park and this clash has all the ingredients to produce a typical South African derby.
Captain and number eight Warren Whiteley is enjoying a good season so far, leading a youthful Lions team in Super Rugby and winning a gold medal with the Springbok Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
They will be missing a bunch of their Super Rugby squad but the host will line up a team including the likes of Marnitz Boshoff (top SA Super Rugby points scorer in 2014) and Lionel Mapoe (joint top try scorer), so they will hope to go a long way this season.
The Bulls are rebuilding after a disappointing campaign last season when they lost a host of established stars.
However, with Frans Ludeke back in the coaching seat after taking over the reigns from Pine Pienaar, the Pretoria team have some of the country's most outstanding young talent from which to choose. Ludeke has handed the skipper duties to flanker Deon Stegmann.
Keep an eye on Jesse Kriel when he comes off the bench. A star of the U20 World Champs with the Baby Boks, he has the makings of a world-class player.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Ruan Combrink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross CronjÃ©, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 MB Lusaseni, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 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 Jurgen 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 (captain), 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 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.
Referee:Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Stuart Barry, Ben Crouse
Pumas v Free State Cheetahs
Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Beware the Pumas! Under coach Jimmy Stonehouse, the Pumas went 14 games unbeaten to win the First Division title in impressive fashion last year, a feat which saw him scoop the Coach of the Year prize at the annual SARU Player of the Year awards.
CornÃ© Steenkamp will play in a landmark 150th first class match when he leads the Pumas onto the field in Nelspruit.
In his starting XV, Stonehouse has included inside centre Stefan Watermeyer, who was a regular feature during the Lions' Super Rugby campaign. Watermeyer, the only Super Rugby player