Your double quick team-by-team Currie Cup guide

Your double quick team-by-team Currie Cup guide

Curwin Bosch. Photo: Gallo Images.

The hallowed provincial tournament is back in all it’s watered-down glory, but it’s importance in terms of depth remains.

World rugby’s oldest provincial competition, the Currie Cup, is back this weekend in yet another guise.

2019’s edition is merely a single-round tournament that concludes as early as 7 September in order to accommodate the Cheetahs’ Pro14 challenge as well as the World Cup.

It’s certainly a far cry from the good old days.

Nonetheless, the Currie Cup remains important in terms of cultivating depth for Super Rugby, especially given how the so-called “Big Four” franchises are paralysed by overseas defections.

Here’s a snapshot of what to expect from the teams.

BLUE BULLS

Burger Odendaal(c) of the Blue Bulls on the attack during the Currie Cup Semi Final match between Cell C Sharks and Vodacom Blue Bulls at Growthpoint Kings Park on October 21, 2017 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)

Coach: Pote Human

Captain: Burger Odendaal

For a team that’s been gutted at the conclusion of this year’s Super Rugby campaign, the men from Loftus have a surprisingly solid look (relatively speaking of course). The backline is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown with various experienced members like Cornal Hendricks, Odendaal, Marnitz Boshoff, Rosko Specman and Johnny Kotze hoping to inspire. Up front, the Bulls also hardly lack some grunt and wisdom, though one feels they’re one of two injuries away from the pack becoming a problem.

Key player: The underrated Odendaal is one of the more accomplished inside centres in the country and will provide much direction.

FREE STATE CHEETAHS

William Small-Smith of the Toyota Cheetahs during the Guinness Pro14 match between Toyota Cheetahs and Ospreys at Toyota Stadium on September 29, 2017 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Coach: Franco Smith

Captain: Tian Meyer

The Cheetahs will in all likelihood continue their tradition of being a Currie Cup powerhouse as they’ll have all their Pro14 players fresh and available for the whole tournament. It’s hardly a power-packed group of players, but one that, given their experience in Europe, should be able to withstand the rigours of the local competition. Should they stay injury-free, an unfashionable but eminently competent squad of loose forwards could be a highlight.

Key player: William Small-Smith’s versatility and playmaking ability in a back division that lacks specialists in certain positions means he’s an asset.

GRIQUAS

Gideon van der Merwe of the Tafel Lager Griquas during the SuperSport Rugby Challenge semi final match between Western Province and Tafel Lager Griquas at KaNyamazane Stadium on June 16 , 2019 in Nelspruit, South Africa. (Photo by Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images)

Coach: Brent Janse van Rensburg

Captain: George Whitehead

When one considers the overall strength of the competition, Griquas actually need to be considered a dark horse rather than enthusiastic also-rans. Fresh from their triumph in the SuperSport Challenge, coach Brent Janse van Rensburg has an established pattern and a tantalising bunch of untapped talents eager to make their mark. This is a union that’s recruited very cannily … and they could spring surprises.

Key player: Young flanker Gideon van der Merwe lit up the Varsity Cup for NWU-Pukke this year with his explosiveness and physique. At his best, he’s a coach’s dream: big and skillful.

LIONS

Marnus Schoeman of the Lions during the Super Rugby match between Emirates Lions and Hurricanes at Emirates Airline Park on June 08, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images)

Coach: Cash van Rooyen

Captain: Ross Cronje

For the past few years, the Lions have invested heavily in some of South Africa’s leading junior players. With a legion of experienced members having left, one might as well take the plunge and rebuild all the way with those youngsters. That’s exactly what the team from Ellis Park seems to have done. You can bet it’s going to be exciting all the way, but expect some negative overall results and some wayward moments.

Key player: At 30, the nippy Marnus Schoeman is the eldest member of the squad and a flanker equally adept at stealing ball and holding his own in the collisions.

PUMAS

Chris Smith of the Pumas tackled by Madot Mabokela of the Bulls during the SuperSport Rugby Challenge match between Vodacom Blue Bulls and iCOLLEGE Pumas at Loftus Versfeld on May 26, 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

Coach: Jimmy Stonehouse

Captain: Ryan Nell

There’s an argument to be made that the Pumas nowadays can always be considered a heavyweight in the Currie Cup. Jimmy Stonehouse’s teams have a habit of starting like a house on fire, only to fade away in the latter stages. If 2018 is anything to go by though, the Pumas’ biggest challenge is tying new strings to their bow in terms of their game-plan. That template was picked apart by some sides last year. But never count your chickens against these guys.

Key player: So much of the Pumas’ play in centred around flyhalf Chris Smith, a real talent.

THE SHARKS

Coach: Sean Everitt

Captains: Jeremy Ward and Tera Mtembu

The thing that keeps the Durbanites back in Super Rugby is their big strength in the Currie Cup. The Sharks regularly boast a fairly deep squad that invariably proves to be one of the strongest in the tournament. As defending champions and playing under the more laid-back style of new coach Sean Everitt, the Sharks should be quite difficult to beat.

Key player: With no-one to watch for behind his back, Curwin Bosch should flourish at flyhalf.

WESTERN PROVINCE

Wilco Louw of Western Province during the Currie Cup, Semi Final match between DHL Western Province and Vodacom Blue Bulls at DHL Newlands Stadium on October 20, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Coach: John Dobson

Captain: Chris van Zyl

Their administrative and financial chaos aside, the Streeptruie remain a remarkably strong outfit. They’ve made success in the tournament a habit under coach John Dobson and there are more than enough experienced men around to supplement a burgeoning generation of new potential heroes.

Key player: Wilco Louw is a bit out of favour at national level. That should spur him on and no local side will bemoan a tighthead that goes on a rampage.

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