After a few months of inactivity, the Currie Cup is back in action from this weekend three mouthwatering fixtures at Mbombela Stadium in Mbombela, Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein and Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town.
Action starts with defending champions Bulls visiting the Pumas under the light on Friday and there will be two more matches on Saturday with the Griquas hitting the road to the Cheetahs and Western Province hosting the Lions.
Pumas VS Bulls
Cornal Hendricks will captain a strong Bulls team in their opening match of the side’s Currie Cup defence when they take on the highly unpredictable Pumas at the Mbombela Stadium on Friday night.
Bulls’ coach Gert Smal has selected a strong starting eleven which includes experienced players like Jacques van Rooyen, Elrigh Louw, Arno Botha, Embrose Papier, Hendricks and Madosh Tambwe.
On the bench, Smal will have the likes of Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Lizo Gqoboka, Robert Hunt, Sintu Manjezi, WJ Steenkamp, Zak Burger, Juan Mostert and Stedman Gans to offer fresh legs in the second half.
For the home side, there is a new look as they lost ten players from their squad of last season including inspirational captain Pieter Jansen van Vuren who has joined the Lions for their United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign.
Coach Jimmy Stonehouse has been forced to once again rebuilt the team and he has started by recruiting former Junior Boks and Bulls flyhalf Thinus de Beer and Robbie Petzer who was previously in the books of the Cheetahs.
Other newly signed players Lucky Dlepu, winger Lundi Msenge, started for University of Western Cape (UWC) in Varsity Cup and fiery lock Malembe Mpofu who also was given a Pumas contract based on his Varsity Cup form last year.
Pick: Bulls Wins by 0.70 at BetXChange
Cheetahs VS Griquas
Cheetahs will be led by the vastly experienced Ruan Pienaar for their opening match of the competition at the Toyota Stadium on Saturday afternoon where they will be looking to get their campaign off to a winning start.
To get the much needed home win, the Cheetahs will pin their hopes on key players like Frans Steyn, vice captain Aidon Davids, Clayton Blommetjies, Chris Smit, Victor Sekekete and Mihlali Mosi.
For the visitors, their squad announcement revealed that there will be twelve players making their debuts for the club and eight more who will be playing in the Currie Cup for the first time in the careers.
To upset the Cheetahs in their own backyard, the likes of captain Ruan Steenkamp, Ashlon Davids, Siba Qoma, Mzwanele Zito, Christopher Holis and Stefan Ungerer will have to guide the many inexperienced players in the team.
Pick: Cheetahs Wins by 0.30 at BetXChange
Western Province VS Lions
Flank Nama Xaba will captain Western Province during their opening Currie Cup match against the Lions in Cape Town on Saturday.
The former Western Province U19 and U21 captain will lead the senior team for the first time and this will be the first time that a Western Province match will have a crowd since 2019 with 2000 fully vaccinated spectators allowed to attend.
Xaba is joined in the loose trio by No.8 Hacjivah Dayimani and the promising Simon Miller, and Adre Smith and Connor Evans will make their Western Province debuts in the second row while up front experienced hooker Chad Solomon has props Kwenzo Blose and Lee-Marvin Mazibuko on either side of him.
In the backline, scrumhalf Thomas Bursey and wing Paschal Ekeji are also both on debut.
Bursey will link up with experienced flyhalf Tim Swiel, who has Cornel Smit and Leolin Zas next to him in the midfield.
Ekeji is joined in the back three by fullback Tristan Leyds and Angelo Davids. Hooker Jacques van Zyl, loose forward Keke Morabe and outside back Mnombo Zwelendaba are all set to make their Western Province debuts from a replacements bench which also features a fair amount of experience in the likes of Deon Fourie and Godlen Masimla.
For the Lions, tighthead prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye will captain the side against in Cape Town on Saturday where the talented prop forward will lead an exciting team which boasts ten Junior Boks in the match 23.
Pick: Western Province Wins by 0.75 at BetXChange