North-South derby kicks off Currie Cup Premier Division

The Currie Cup Premier Division will get underway with a bang on Friday with the Blue Bulls taking on Western Province in a thrilling North-South battle at Loftus Versfeld, which is expected to set the tone for the competition.

The Premier Division, which features nine teams this year, will see three matches being played in the opening round. The clash between the EP Kings and Griquas has been postponed until a later stage, meaning they will join the Golden Lions on a bye this weekend.

The match in Pretoria will be followed by a clash between the Pumas and Sharks at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday, and in the only match on Saturday, the Boland Cavaliers take on the Free State Cheetahs at the Boland Stadium in Wellington.

The two most successful Currie Cup sides ever clash in what is expected to be a thrilling encounter, as the Blue Bulls look to make the most of their home ground advantage against the 2014 champions, who in turn will be determined to pick up where they left off last season, when they finished as runners-up to the Golden Lions.

This match is a repeat of the 2015 semi-final, when the Cape side emerged 23-18 victors in Pretoria. Earlier this season, Western Province beat the Blue Bulls by 30-16 in Cape Town, which means they will be going for a third successive win over the men in light blue.

The clash between the Pumas and Sharks should also be exciting given the hard-fought encounters between the sides last season. The teams also met in the opening match of their campaigns last season at the Mbombela Stadium, which the Lowvelders won 33-24, but the Durbanites pipped them by a point in their second outing later in the season (27-26).

In Wellington, Boland will be determined to make a good impression in what will be their first appearance in the Currie Cup Premier Division since 2009. But they will face a seasoned Free State Cheetahs team that will have their sights set on a strong start to the season with the hope of advancing to the semi-final again this season.

The six-team Currie Cup First Division, which will feature the Leopards, Border Bulldogs, Griffons, SWD Eagles, Hino Valke and Welwitschias from Namibia, will kick off next week, which see the competition launch into full swing.

Key statistics:

· Discipline is key: Penalties proved to be a key source of points for in the Currie Cup semi-final between the Blue Bulls and Western Province last season. Blue Bulls flyhalf Tian Schoeman kicked six penalties for his team’s 18 points, while Western Province flyhalf Robert du Preez kicked three penalties for all his team’s first half points.

· Kickers set the tone: In the last two outings between the Pumas and Sharks, the kicking battle between Pumas flyhalf JC Roos and Sharks fullback Joe Pietersen proved to be a key battle. Roos kicked 26 points and Pietersen 21 for their teams in those matches.

· Seven years later: The last match Boland played in the Currie Cup Premier Division in 2009 was against the Free State Cheetahs in Wellington. The Free State side won the clash 55-10, with flyhalf Danré Gerber scoring all of the home team’s points on the day, compliments of a try, penalty goal and conversion.

Currie Premier Division fixtures:

Friday, 5 August:

Blue Bulls vs Western Province
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17h10
Referee: Stuart Berry

Pumas vs Sharks
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Kick-off: 19h20
Referee: Jaco Peyper

Saturday, 6 August:

Boland vs Free State Cheetahs
Venue: Boland Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 15h00
Referee: Rodney Boneparte

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