Currie Cup preview: Round One
It's all systems go as South Africa's leading provincial teams kick off their campaigns in the Currie Cup Premier Division this weekend.
The biggest match-up of the weekend takes place in Cape Town where the defending champions, Western Province, host their arch-rivals the Blue Bulls.
As the tournament's two most successful provinces, the north v south derby still holds a special place in the hearts of plenty supporters so a big crowd can be expected at Newlands.
The weekend's action kicks off at Kings Park in Durban where last year's runners-up, the Sharks, host Griquas and the Golden Lions take on the Free State Cheetahs in Saturday's early game at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
Friday, 9 August
The Sharks v Griquas
Saturday, 10 August
Golden Lions v Free State Cheetahs
Western Province v Blue Bulls
The Sharks v Griquas
Kings Park Stadium, Durban
This fixture will be a momentous occasion for the home side as it will be their first match under the leadership of their new director of rugby Brendon Venter and head coach for this tournament Brad Macleod-Henderson.
But although they have a new coaching team, the Sharks are an experienced outfit who have several Springboks in their starting line-up.
Their skipper Keegan Daniel expects a difficult assignment against the men from Kimberley but is determined to start the new season a winning note.
"This is a new group and we know they will be tough and physical," he said.
"We know what to expect and it's more about sticking to our structures and game plan."
Venter echoed Daniel sentiments and said they will not underestimate their opponents.
"Griquas are a clever outfit, they know how to do well in the Currie Cup and they've recruited a lot of old hands, so it will be a tough start for us," he explained.
"But we are looking forward to it. We want to measure ourselves against them and see how good we can be."
Griquas head into this clash as massive underdogs, but they will be unfazed as it's a situation they have been in most of their fixtures for several seasons now.
Their coach is Pote Human is a shrewd operator and will have a few tricks up his sleeve. In Deon Brummer they have a potential match-winner at fly-half while their forwards are always competitive, especially in the set-pieces.
Prediction: The Sharks are always a difficult side to face at their home ground while Griquas traditionally struggle away from home. This paves the way for an easy Sharks victory by 15 points!
Sharks: 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Sizo Maseko, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Butch James, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Jaco van Tonder
Griquas: 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 JP Nel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 PJ Vermeulen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Burger Schoeman, 7 Jaco Negpen, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Ligtoring Landman, 4 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (capt), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Nick Schonert, 18 Jonathan Adendorff, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Marnus Hugo, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 Rocco Jansen.
Kick-off:19:10 (17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Golden Lions v Free State Cheetahs
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg
The Lions will be brimming with confidence after regaining the Super Rugby status in their promotion/relegation play-offs with the Kings last weekend.
Coach Johan Ackermann is keen to build on the momentum from the play-offs and to hit the ground running in the Currie Cup.
"It wasn't easy," he said.
"It (promotion/relegation play-off) was a big pressure release for us, it was a big challenge and it took a lot out of us," Ackermann said.
"We have to forget about what happened. We achieved one of our goals this season (winning the promotion playoff). It's about Currie Cup now and we start with a game against a side that traditionally always do well in the Currie Cup."
Ackermann knows a difficult task awaits his charges against the Cheetahs but is keen to get their campaign off to a positive start.
"We have to win," he added. I think the secret is to win your home games.
"If you do that, you've already won five games and then you're about two away games from reaching the semifinals. Week by week it is a challenge and if you aren't at your best you'll lose because there is no easy weekend."
The Cheetahs are keen to build on their fine showing in the Super Rugby tournament. Coach Naka Drotske will be without the services of front row trio Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and Coenie Oosthuizen - who are on duty with the Springboks - as well as injured flanker Heinrich Brussow.
Despite those losses, Drotske still has named a strong side who will give a good account of themselves.
Prediction: This could be the closest encounter of the weekend. Both sides enjoy playing expansively, so a high-scoring game can be expected. The Cheetahs are more experienced, however, and will win by five points!
Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Guy Cronje, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie (c), 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Lambert Groenewald, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Lionel Cronje/Robert de Bruyn.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo (c), 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 John-Roy Jenkinson, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Oupa Mohoje, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Joubert Engelbrecht, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Kick-off:15:00 (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Western Province v Blue Bulls
Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Expect fireworks when these two sides meet in the weekend's final match. As traditional rivals there's always plenty at stake when these sides meet and this clash will be no different.
Both sides have several players in the Springbok squad and the Bulls have also been decimated by injuries and the departures of several stalwarts to overseas-based clubs.
This means that there will be several debutants in action in this encounter.
Bulls coach Pine Pienaar feels his youngsters have the ability to surprise several sides this season and believes they can start their campaign positively.
"We are excited about the potential of our team," Pienaar said.
"We have a lot of young players and Newlands is a severe test to even an experienced player, but if ever there was a time to justify the structures and depth at the union, this is it.
"We have a lot of faith in our structures and the younger players have all proved themselves. There is also a good core of experience, so we are looking forward to a good Currie Cup season."
As defending champions, Western Province have enough motivation and their coach Allister Coetzee is keen to build on last year's platform when he also blooded several youngsters.
"We're looking ahead to the 2013 Currie Cup season - it's another great opportunity for us to unearth some new talent.
"North-South derbies are always big games and we're not expecting anything different this weekend. We're excited to be starting our campaign at home and we're hoping to have a big crowd at Newlands."
Prediction: This should be another close encounter but Western Province always seem to save their best performances for their home supporters and will win by seven points!
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Pat Howard, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie (capt), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Alistair Vermaak, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Ruan Kitshoff, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Berton Klaasen.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Ulrich Beyers, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Tony Jantjies, 9 Rudi Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellet.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Marcell van der Merwe, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Clayton Blommetjies.
Kick-off:17:05 (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge