Currie Cup Premier Division set for kick off

South Africa’s provincial season will move into full swing this weekend as the top six provincial teams take to the field in the opening round of the Currie Cup Premier Division.

With both the Premier and First division competitions on the go, it means all 14 provincial unions will have the opportunity to make their presence felt.

The Sharks and Griquas will get the Premier Division underway on Friday evening in Durban. On Saturday the Golden Lions will host the Free State Cheetahs in Johannesburg and defending champions, Western Province, will battle it out with the Blue Bulls in Cape Town. The clash at Kings Park will be particularly important for the Sharks as it will mark the first match under the guidance of the new coaching team featuring director of rugby Brendan Venter, forwards coach Brad Macleod-Henderson and backline coach Sean Everitt.

Home ground advantage aside, the starting 15 features seven Springboks, including inspirational captain Keegan Daniel, flyhalf Butch James and wing Lwazi Mvovo.

Their leadership will be vital to guide the younger players. Griquas on the other hand boast a more settled team with an experienced tight five and an efficient flyhalf in Francois Brummer, which could set the scene for a thrilling encounter.

Looking ahead at the clash, Venter said: “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. But we are looking forward to it. “

“We want to measure ourselves against them and see how good we can be.”

The Golden Lions, meanwhile, will be determined to prove their worth against the Free State Cheetahs after reclaiming their Super Rugby status last week.

With two high-pressure matches behind them, they will also look to use the momentum gained to stamp their authority early on. The Cheetahs, however, have selected a quality team with a highly-rated loose trio led by captain Boom Prinsloo, and the exciting halfback pairing of Elgar Watts and Sarel Pretorius.

Given the quality of both team’s backlines, it should prove to be a spectacle.

In Cape Town the north-south derby is expected to be epic despite the Western Province and the Blue Bulls both fielding relatively inexperienced teams.

Both coaches named a handful of debutantes due to Springbok call-ups, and in the Pretoria team’s case specifically, injuries and the departure of a few key players.

However, both sides also boast a bunch of experienced campaigners, including Western Province’s Gio Aplon, Rynhardt Elstadt and inspirational captain Deon Fourie, and Willie Wepener, Wilhelm Steenkamp and Waylon Murray from the Bulls, who will be expected to lead by example.

The clash will be particularly important for new Blue Bulls captain and No8 Jono Ross, with the clash marking his run-on debut for the side.

With both team’s priding themselves on their strong forwards, the clash is expected to be tight. But with exciting backs such as the Blue Bulls’ Tony Jantjies and Sampie Mastriet, and WP’s Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe at bay, it should be entertaining.

“We are excited about the potential of our team,” Blue Bulls coach Pine 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.”

Western Province coach Allister Coetzee was equally excited about the talent in his team and said: “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 anythi

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