A new season of Absa Currie Cup rugby starts on Friday when the Lions host the Pumas in Johannesburg in what has been labelled as a crucial match for the hosts.
The Lions are looking to build on momentum gained during a vastly improved Super Rugby season, but are aware of the dangers that lurk in the Pumas squad.
The visitors will enter the opening match with the knowledge that they won their last encounter at Ellis Park, and they should have the confidence they will need to defeat the Lions.
“In 2010 we didn’t have too much experience at the back, but this year it’s different,” said Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse.
“Our set phases have always been good and I’m excited to see how this backline goes.”
In the second match of the competition, Western Province take on Griquas at Newlands on Saturday in what should be a largely physical affair.
A good test
Province coach Allister Coetzee’s squad will be a far cry from the one that reached the Super Rugby playoffs, so it comes as no surprise that the Cape Town side will approach the game with caution.
“This match will give us a good indication of where we are [in terms of our Currie Cup strength],” said Coetzee.
“It’s going to be a good test especially as Griquas will be playing with a big pack of forwards.”
The Cheetahs have also lost the core of their team to either the Springboks or their Super Rugby allies, Griquas, and will be foolish to underestimate the less favoured Leopards.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske nonetheless said his players should go hunting for bonus points from the word go.
“We’d like to get a good start to the season and it’s always very important to win your home games,” Drotske said.
“But we’re also backing our attacking structures and would like to chase a bonus point for scoring four tries.
“Any team can surprise, but we’ll be putting pressure on ourselves to do well,” Drotske added.
The Leopards have a few surprise packages in their team and new coach Leon Boshoff will hope the “unknown” men in his squad will rise to the occasion.
“As is the case in every season, a few injuries will damage our cause, but that does not mean we won’t be competitive,” said Boshoff.
“On the contrary, I am confident that this group of players will use the opportunity they have to compete against the best in the country to make names for themselves.”
In the final match of the first weekend’s proceedings, the Sharks and Bulls will battle for supremacy in Durban with both sides missing their Springbok stalwarts.
Both sides released a few more players to the Springbok setup than they had originally hoped, but the playing fields should be relatively level.
“I think they are in the same boat as us, so it will be interesting to see what type of game it is at the weekend in terms of quality,” Sharks coach John Plumtree said this week.
“I guess the Bulls have always had strong depth, so I’m sure they’re going to put together a good side.”
Despite the departure of 16 Springboks, the Bulls still have some experienced men in their team and will look to set the score straight after last year’s semifinal exit against the same opponents. — Sapa