The Crusaders must surely still be nursing hangovers from their Super Rugby success yet in South Africa the Sharks, Bulls, Lions and Stormers (Wester Province) are already back to domestic duty. (Clearly the organisers had little faith in a South African team staying on too far past the regular Super Rugby season given the “break” afforded to them!).
The South African Super Rugby provinces come into the local Currie Cup with squads depleted by national call-ups and overseas exodus. Yet it is also an exciting time for the unions and their fans as some young talent within their ranks get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the remaining Super Rugby stalwarts. These youngsters will also look to use the Currie Cup opportunity offered to them to push for 2020 Super Rugby spots. Let’s take a quick glance at some of these teams.
Bulls: Super Rugby stars Burger Odendaal, Cornal Hendricks and Rosko Specman remain in the squad. Lood de Jager will also be available for a few games and in Matanzima, Visagie and Herbst they have a strong starting frontrow to call on. Despite losing a number of loosies of late the Bulls still have the likes of Tim Agaba, Ruan Steenkamp and Roelof Smit available to them.
Sharks: Sharks fans have the right to feel seriously excited about this young squad. Coenie Oosthuizen and Craig Burden offer a touch of experience and Jeremy Ward, LwaziMvovo and the returning JP Pietersen will also be valuable in sharing the Sharks culture with a host of young guns. JJ van der Mesch, Pepis Buthelezi, Dylan Richardson and Sanele Nohambaall come into the squad straight from representing the Junior Boks. Other up and comers who get a chance for more game time in the senior Sharks squad include Kerron van Vuuren, ApheleleFassi and Muller du Plessis. Exciting times in Durban indeed!
Lions: The Lions have lost a whole host of their more senior players of late. Dylan Smith, Tyrone Green, Dayimani, Vincent Tshitukaand Wandile Simelane have all caught the eye in Super Rugby during 2019 and now get the opportunity for further extended game time in the senior team for the Currie Cup campaign. Ross Cronje, JacobieAdriaanse and Marnus Schoeman bring some much needed experience to the team.
Western Province: No squad looks stronger. SalmaanMoerat, JD Schickerling, Juarno Augustus and Jaco Coetzee have all had some good game time in the Province/Stormers limelight yet get another campaign to show further growth. Ali Vermaak and Carlu Sadie are seriously strong props to be able to call on and then there are Province regulars like ScarraNtubeni, SP Marais, JannoVermaak and Chris van Zyl who can lead the way. Watch out for big things from Johan du Toit, Ruhan Nel, Senatla and Paul de Wet in Currie Cup 2019.
The others: The Cheetahs have stated that they will be playing their Pro 14 squad in the Currie Cup since the local competition concludes before their European campaign commences. They are also keen on given Franco Smith a fitting send-off so the men from Bloemfontein should be making semi-finals at least.
The Griquas beat the Pumas to be crowned the Super Sport Challenge champions recently. Both the Pumas and the men from Kimberley have the advantage that they are settled squads with recent game time as a unit under their belts. Given that it is also a shortened version of the Currie Cup this year it will be crucial for these “minnows” to hit the bigger unions cold and try and sneak a playoff spot in this manner.
Super Rugby is still fresh in the mind and many might be looking forward to the Rugby Championships and even World Cup later on. Yet Currie Cup offers a good insight into the future of South African rugby and I for one think we will see plenty to get excited about in the coming month or two. The shortened format of the comp also adds some extra tension as each game is vitally important.
Ominously for all the other contender Western Province coach, John Dobson, has categorically stated that he has been given a mandate by his union to win the Currie Cup. Young talent development, whilst paramount for the likes of the Sharks and Bulls (and forced on the Lions), will play second fiddle to returning the Currie Cup to Newlands for the Streeptruie. Province have a great looking squad with plenty of young talent who have firstly come a long way with Dobson and secondly have basically all already had a taste of Super Rugby. There is power in the pack and skill at the back. They are overwhelming favourites but firmly deserve this title as the men form Cape Town won’t be stopped from sipping out of the cup come 7 September.
BETOLIMP Best Bet: Western Province to win the Currie Cup @ 3.14
Note, odds quoted are available at the time of writing but are subject to change