Ridiculously congested programme relegates Currie Cup to back seat

2012-08-04 00:00

THE Sharks will be without at least eight of their Springboks and their French flyhalf for the diluted Currie Cup competition, which starts in almost indecent haste with an outing against Western Province at Newlands next Saturday.

The prolonged Super Rugby tournament and the introduction of the international Rugby Championship has added to a ridiculously congested programme, and South Africa’s traditional Currie Cup will now take a back seat.

The travel-fatigued Sharks return from the Super Rugby final in Hamilton on Monday and a day later their Springboks will have to travel to Cape Town to join Heyneke Meyer’s national squad in Cape Town to prepare for their Rugby Championship opener against newcomers Argentina at Newlands on August 18.

Meyer will name his Bok squad at a media conference in Worcester this afternoon and the eight Sharks certainties are backs Pat Lambie, Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen, and forwards Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira, Willem Alberts and Marcell Coetzee.

Other strong contenders are Ryan Kankowski, who is otherwise spending the next few months playing club rugby in Japan, Keegan Daniel and wing Lwazi Mvovo.

The Sharks have also lost flyhalf Freddie Michalak, who is returning to France this month to take up a club contract.

The Rugby Championship, with Argentina joining the Tri-Nations countries — South Africa, New Zealand and Australia — is to be played on a home and away basis and stretches until October 6.

The Currie Cup round robin games end a week later (the Sharks host Griquas in Durban on October 13) with the semi-finals on October 20 and the final on October 27.

The Currie Cup has been reduced to six teams (Sharks, Lions, Cheetahs, Western Province, Blue Bulls and Griquas) to squeeze in the tournament before November and they will meet on a home and away basis.

The in-form Sharks will be the hardest hit by Springbok demands and CEO Brian van Zyl told the Weekend Witness this week that the Currie Cup tournament would be used to develop young talent for next year’s Super Rugby competition.

“We are expecting to lose about 10 of our senior players, but this does provide an opportunity for the young players in the province to establish themselves in the Sharks squad.”

Coach John Plumtree will probably have to start by resting a number of his other first-choice players for the Newlands trip next weekend after the three taxing Super Rugby playoff matches in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand on successive Saturdays.

But in the months ahead, a number of players who have spent much of the Super Rugby season on the Sharks’ replacement bench, among them Jacques Botes, Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Jandre Marais, Odwa Ndungane, Meyer Bosman and Riaan Viljoen, will enjoy seeing regular action.

Rugby Championship fixtures (SA times):

Saturday, August 18: Australia v New Zealand, Sydney, 12:05pm; South Africa v Argentina, Newlands, 5.00pm.

Saturday, August 25: New Zealand v Australia, Auckland , 9.35 am; Argentina v South Africa, Mendoza , 9.10 pm; Saturday, September: 1 Bye.

Saturday, September 8: Australia v South Africa, Perth, 12:35 pm; New Zealand v Argentina, Wellington, 9.35 am.

Saturday, September 15: Australia v Argentina, Gold Coast, 12.05 pm; New Zealand v South Africa, Dunedin, 9.35 am.

Saturday, September 22: Bye

Saturday, September 29: South Africa v Australia, Loftus Versfeld, 5.00 pm; Argentina v New Zealand, La Plata, 1.10 am (September 30).

Saturday, October 6: South Africa v New Zealand, Soweto, 5.00 pm; Argentina v Australia, Rosario, 1.10 am (October 7).

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