South Africa’s top domestic rugby competition, the Absa Currie Cup, kicks-off on Friday evening in Port Elizabeth when newcomers EP Kings play against DHL Western Province at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Premier Division encounter starts at 19h00 and SuperSport will again broadcast all the games live and in HD, starting with Friday evening’s clash in PE which will be aired on SS1.
The semis are scheduled for Saturday, 18 October and will be followed a week later by the season finale, the Absa Currie Cup final.
In a boost for the Eastern Cape region, the Kings return to the Premier Division after a 12-year absence and they can brace themselves for a tough match against Western Province, last season’s log winners, who lost at home in Cape Town to the Cell C Sharks in the final.
The Kings have traditionally enjoyed good support from the Eastern Cape rugby fans at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and a passionate crowd is expected on Friday to witness their comeback to the top flight. Luke Watson will captain the Kings from the number eight position.
Centre Juan de Jongh leads a much-changed WP outfit, which will include fit again Springboks Eben Etzebeth (lock) and Frans Malherbe (prop). The latter two were released from Springbok duty in order to get some much-needed game time after returning from lengthy injury lay-offs.
The remaining three matches are scheduled for Saturday. In the early afternoon game GWK Griquas play host to champions The Sharks. The Kimberley outfit will be hoping to repeat their heroics of last season when they defeated the Sharks at home in Durban. Kick-off is 14:45.
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.
The Xerox Golden Lions and Vodacom Blue Bulls meet at Ellis Park in the second match of the day at 17h00.
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 No 8 Warren Whiteley is enjoying a good season so far, leading a youthful Lions franchise team in Vodacom Super Rugby and winning a gold medal with the Springbok Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
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.
In the remaining fixture on Saturday the Steval Pumas are home in Nelspruit against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs.
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 Absa Coach of the Year prize at the annual SARU Player of the Year awards.
Corné Steenkamp will play in a landmark 150th first class match when he leads the Pumas onto the field in Nelspruit. As for the Cheetahs, they are expected to be challenging again for a top four spot despite losing many stalwarts to other provinces or overseas clubs.
They have in coach Rory Duncan and captain Torsten van Jaarsveld two new men at the helm.
Vodacom Blue Bulls
Coach: Frans Ludeke
Captain: Deon Stegman (flank)
Last season: Fifth (3 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw)
Toyota Free State Cheetahs
Coach: Rory Duncan
Captain: Torsten van Jaarsveld
Last season: Third (5 wins, 5 losses)
Coach: Carlos Spencer
Captain: Luke Watson (No 8)
Last season: First Division runners-up (10 wins, 4 losses)
Coach: Hawies Fourie
Captain: Wayne Stevens (centre)
Last season: Sixth (1 win, 9 losses; winners of Qualifying tournament – 6 wins, 0 losses)
Xerox Golden Lions
Coach: Johan Ackermann
Captain: Warren Whiteley
Last season: Fourth (4 wins, 5 losses, 1 draw)
Coach: Jimmy Stonehouse
Captain: Corné Steenkamp
Last season: Absa Currie Cup First Division champions (14 wins, 0 losses)
Cell C Sharks
Coach: Brad MacLeod-Henderson
Captain: Tera Mtembu
Last season: Champions (second on log, 7 wins, 3 losses)
DHL Western Province
Coach: Allister Coetzee
Captain: Juan de Jongh
Last season: Runners-up (first on log, 8 wins, 2 losses)
The Absa Currie Cup Premier Division fixtures for this weekend – Round 1
Friday, 8 August
EP Kings vs DHL Western Province
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Christie du Preez, Jaco Pretorius
TMO: Deon van Blommestein
Saturday, 9 August
GWK Griquas vs Cell C Sharks
Venue: GWK Park, Kimberley
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Louwrens van der Merwe, Francois de Bruin
TMO: JJ Wagner
Golden Lions vs Vodacom Blue Bulls
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Stuart Barry, Ben Crouse
TMO: Johan Greeff
Steval Pumas vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Gerrie du Bruin, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Willie Vos