The last time the Currie Cup was played in the six team format was way back in 1995, a year that sits well in the collective memory bank of Springbok rugby fans. And, with this in mind, I’m looking forward to watching three quality games every weekend till the end of October. No more Potch or Witbank derbies.
My wife (a Cheetahs fan) always says that the one thing she loves about the Currie Cup (and there are many) is that a South African team is guaranteed a win (with reference to Super 15). The Currie Cup has taken a back seat due to the long and ardous Super Rugby Comp but you can bet an Amstel quart that within the first few weeks of battle, we’ll relive the magic of one of SA sport’s favourite domestic Cup.
In 1995, WP, Natal, Blue Bulls, Lions, Free State and EP competed for South African rugby’s greatest prize. It took a masterclass performance from Frenchman Thierry Lacroix to defeat WP in the final at Kings Park. It was a French affair that rainy afternoon with Olivier Roumat playing lock for the Sharks. Flanker Laurant Cabannes and scrumhalf Fabien Galthie were playing for Province that season and it turned out to be the last time Tiaan Strauss donned the famous blue and white hooped jersey. With that wet World Cup semi-final still fresh in his mind, Lacroix was sublime and ensured that he left Kings Park with golden memories of sipping champagne from Currie Cup. I must say, the Sharks deserved to win that day.
Fast forward to now and the only team that aren’t in the top six are EP and we all know what bad stink they’ve made lately. Whoever finishes sixth will more than likely be playing off in a promotion/relegation fixture prior to the Currie Cup final, but knowing the admin of SA rugby, EP may just get promoted automatically. Anyway, I’m not here to slag off EP rugby, I wish them well, but only if matters are taken care of on level playing fields.
1. GOLDEN LIONS
The defending champions are looking dangerous. A poor showing in the Super 15 means that the Golden Lions will be hell-bent on showing that their status as Currie Cup holders wasn’t a fluke. The Lions squad are more or less the same side we saw doing battle in the Super 15. Joshua Strauss has stepped down as the captain but remains an integral part of the team dynamics and their talented loose trio. JC Janse van Rensburg will skipper the side under the tutelage of former Bok lock Johan Ackermann. Butch James will be in the pivot role till Elton returns from Bok duty. Without Elton, I believe the Lions will struggle but he’ll be back during the business end of the Currie Cup. If the Lions retain the same template that made them so hard to beat last year, then they will be a very hard coconut to crack. PREDICTION: 3rd place finish
2. NATAL SHARKS
Beaten finalists last year, the Sharks aren’t going to be easy to beat. Yet, their first fixture against WP at Newlands may just determine how their season pans out. The bulk of their squad are on Bok duty but they still have plenty of depth to play with. Sibusiso Sithole, Paul Jordaan, and the late Jaco Reinach’s son Cobus, are exciting prospects for the future. Throw in a few stalwarts like Odwa Ndungane, Meyer Bosman, Jacques Botes and Craig Burden, and you have a talented and well-balanced team. Jean Deysel will be wearing the captains armband with pride and there’s no doubting his loyalty to the Sharks cause. Kings Park will be a hard place for any visiting team, especially with Deysel leading from the front. PREDICTION: 4th place finish
3. FREE STATE CHEETAHS
The Grey Bloem conveyor belt keeps churning them out and this season it’s no different. The Free State Craven week side wasn’t the best vintage in recent times but coach Naka Drotske always has a cunning plan. Robert Ebersohn will captain the side and Riaan Smit is the Cheetahs pivot until golden boy Johan Goosen returns. It’s notable that once the Golden Goose got injured, the Cheetahs lacked punch in the latter stages of the Super 15. Heinrich Brussouw is still injured but Sevens star Boom Prinsloo will thrive on the amount of rugby he’ll be playing in the weeks to come, and together with Lappies Labuschagne, and former Griqua Davon Raubenheimer, the men from Bloem possess a competent loose trio capable of upsetting the top teams. The Cheetahs are usually thin on depth, yet they possess two highly-talented scrumhalves in Piet van Zyl and Sarel Pretorius. Expect these two to cause havoc in open play. Look out for Marcel van der Merwe. PREDICTION: 5th place finish
4. WESTERN PROVINCE
The ‘Streeptruie’ are fast becoming known as the bridemaids of SA rugby. Every year, WP fans expect their team to win the Currie Cup, and for eleven long years, the Currie Cup trophy cabinet in Boundary Road, Newlands, has remained bare. One things for sure, the fans will never turn their back on Province and tt’s just a matter of time before WP add another title to their impressive haul. Province have a young squad, but there’s still plenty of experience to draw from. Joe Pietersen, Gerhard van den Heever and Gio Aplon - together with the side-stepping JP du Plessis - should provide more impetus on attack. Lions reject, Burton Francis, has an opportunity to cement his place in the WP starting XV. Catrakillis is only third choice on Coetzee’s list, but he’ll show his worth once again. WP are still thin on loose forwards with Deon Fourie skippering the side as a flanker. Duane Vermeulen and Nick Koster will return soon. I’m sure the coaching staff can’t wait. Province will have to build on their solid showing in the Super 15 in order for them to deliver the goods that the fans have come to expect. PREDICTION: 1st place finish
5. BLUE BULLS
Dewald Potgieter is skipper of a Bulls team ravaged by Bok coach Heyneke Meyer. Thankfully for the Bulls and their fans, the chequebook has been out and about scouring for new talent. The Bulls have livewire SA under 20 centre, Jan Serfontein, on the bench and I’m sure he’s going to be a big hit this season. Jurgen Visser, Francois Venter and flyhalf, Louis Fouche, will be expected to step up and ensure the Bulls remain the formidable side we have come to know. They’ll need good ball though and with the likes of Deon Stegmann, Arno Botha – CJ Stander from the bench - and the experienced hooker Wille Wepener, that won’t be a problem. The Bulls had one of their worst seasons in the Currie Cup last year. Hard lessons were learnt and they won’t forget easily that they missed out on a semi-final. That makes them dangerous. PREDICTION: 2nd place finish
Former EP and Free State eighthman Pote Human will guide a Griquas outfit that knows a sixth place finish means a date with EP. They’ll do what they do best on their carpark of a rugby field. Any sniff of fear will galvanise the men from Kimberley when playing at home, but their shortcomings will be exposed when playing away. Cheetahs star in the Super 15, Willie le Roux, will cause havoc to any defence but he may feel isolated as Griquas are thin in backline depth. Former Bulls JP Nel and Stefen Watermeyer join Francois Brummer in the Griquas lineup this year and their experience will help the younger guns. Look out for Rocco Janse who loves to score tries, and if he combines well with Le Roux, then expect him to be in the top five of this year’s tryscorers. They’ll spring a surprise somewhere but they’ll be up against it. Underestimate Griquas at your own peril. PREDICTION: 6th place finish