Cape Town - Defending Currie Cup champions, the Free State Cheetahs, will kick off the 2017 season on Friday, July 21, when they host the Sharks in Bloemfontein.
The opening round of action in the Currie Cup will also see the Blue Bulls, last year’s runners up, travel to Kimberley to take on Griquas on Saturday, July 22, while the Pumas will host the Golden Lions in Nelspruit on Sunday, July 23.
Western Province will have a bye in the first round.
The Currie Cup First Division, which will be contested by the Griffons, Valke, Leopards, Boland Cavaliers, Border Bulldogs, Eastern Province, SWD Eagles and Welwitschias, starts in the last weekend of August.
The semi-finals in the Premier Division are scheduled for the weekend of October 21 and the final - as well as the finals of the Provincial Under-19 and Under-21 competitions - will be on Saturday, October 28.
The First Division semi-finals are on October 14 and the final on October 20.
“The recent changes to the Currie Cup format are hugely exciting and the countdown has now truly begun to what promises to be another thrilling competition of high-class South African provincial rugby,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.
“Returning to a seven-team Premier Division format, with all teams facing each other home and away, will bring about a more intense, strength-versus-strength competition, and the fact that we’ve re-introduced a promotion challenge series between the winner of the First Division against the last-placed Premier Division team, will add to the excitement.”
Roux explained the decision to start the Currie Cup earlier than originally planned and to do away with the proposed midweek matches: “The opening rounds of the Currie Cup overlap with the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs, but that is a decision that was taken following a recommendation by the Franchise Committee to Exco as to the scheduling of the competition.
“One of the positive outcome of the constitutional changes made last year was to streamline our governance processes and put unions closer to the decision-making process. The CEOs of the premier Division teams were central to deciding on the format of the Currie Cup.
“As the Premier Division will be played by seven teams over a double round of matches, it was difficult to fit all of the encounters into the existing playing window. The Franchise Committee’s recommendation was to bring the kick off of the competition forward - even though there may be an overlap with Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs for some teams.
“They preferred this model to playing multiple midweek matches, which had also been on the table. The franchise teams that are likely to be affected have factored it into their planning.”