Rugby’s red-letter day

2014-08-03 15:00

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For a tournament that has been running for more than a century and which boasts one of the oldest trophies in sport, there is plenty that’s new in the Absa Currie Cup competition that kicks off on Friday.

A new format, designed to prepare the EP Kings for their entry to an expanded Super Rugby competition in 2016, will come into play in the first game of the new season.

The Premier Division of the competition has been expanded from six teams to eight, with the addition by Saru decree of the Kings, guaranteed for two seasons. Along with this, qualifiers the Pumas and Griquas move into the old school of Western Province, the Lions, the Sharks, the Cheetahs and the Bulls.

The eight teams have been divided into two sections based on their 2013 log positions:

Section X – WP, Lions, Blue Bulls, Kings.

Section Y – Sharks, Cheetahs, Pumas, Griquas.

The teams will play home and away within their sections followed by a single cross-conference round before the semi-finals and final – meaning that each team will play 10 league games before the play-offs get under way in mid-October.

There has been much activity in the provinces as Super Rugby has run its course with new coaches taking over, players switching regions and new signings being added to the squads.

One of the key aspects for the leading provinces, especially the defending champions Sharks – who travelled the longest road in Super Rugby – will be to keep tabs on Heyneke Meyer’s squad for the Rugby Championship, which starts on August 16, and factor in the effect of having their top players absent for the start of the Currie Cup.

Fast facts:


Very active in the transfer market – raided the Cheetahs for Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Pieter “Lappies” Labuschagné and Jumba Ulengo. Pine Pienaar holds onto the coaching job under the watchful eye of head coach Frans Ludeke. Have a new captain in Deon Stegmann.


Rory Duncan, who captained Free State to their last CC triumph in 2007, makes his debut as coach in difficult circumstances. Apart from the four players’ exodus to the Bulls, the Cheetahs have also lost Johan Goosen (to Racing Metro), Johann Sadie (Docomo Red Hurricanes), Philip van der Walt (Biarritz), Hennie Daniller (Zebre), Riaan Smit (Oyonnax), Andries Ferreira (Zebre) and Rossouw de Klerk (Glasgow Warriors).

EP Kings

Much expectation rests on the ability of the Kings to deliver on the chance they have been given to play at a higher level, as well as whether they can play with the razzle-dazzle that used to be the hallmark of their coach Carlos Spencer when he was fly half of the All Blacks.


Won six out of six games in the qualifying competition under coach Hawies Fourie to get into the premier division, so they have positive momentum. Seen as a last chance saloon for players not contracted by the big unions but always punch above their weight and are hard to beat in Kimberley.


After their most successful Super Rugby season to date, signing off by walloping the Cheetahs 60-25, the occupants of Ellis Park should be most competitive; could, though, feel the loss of new Springbok and top points-scorer Marnitz Boshoff to the national squad plus the departure of Elton Jantjies to Japan.


Convincingly won promotion to the Premier Division last season under canny coach Jimmy Stonehouse. Will have Faf de Klerk, Coenie van Wyk, Corné Fourie, Stefan Watermeyer and JW Jonker back from the Lions and Renaldo Bothma from Namibia.

Determined to establish the Mbombela Stadium as a thriving centre for rugby and a difficult stopover for the big teams.


Have named talented loose forward Lubabalo “Tera” Mtembu as captain for their Currie Cup campaign, the first black player to get the honour. The defending champions will be smarting after their ignominious exit from Super Rugby. They will be eager to show they have the depth to make up for fatigue and Springbok calls affecting their senior men. Jake White stepping back to allow Brad Mac-Leod-Henderson to take the reins again.

Western Province

National service presenting a problem for coach Allister Coetzee. He is hoping to have Bok skipper Jean de Villiers and lock Eben Etzebeth back from long spells recovering from injuries to regain match fitness – but Heyneke Meyer may not see it that way. With the likes of Demetri Catrakilis, Frans Malherbe, Kobus van Wyk and Gerbrandt Grobler also fit again and Province having done extremely well in all the age-group levels, the men from the Cape should, as ever, mount a strong challenge.

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