The Free State Cheetahs launched the defence of their Absa Currie Cup title with a 20-16 away win over the Griquas in Kimberley today.
One of the oldest rugby trophies in the world, the Currie Cup Premier Division kicks-off this weekend and it won’t be just the silver cup that was presented to South African rugby by the British tourists more than a century ago that will be at stake.
There is also the chance for players in both the Premiers and First Divisions to push for selection against the 2009 British & Irish Lions between now and October.
While the Lions, Cheetahs, Sharks and Western Province all have plum fixtures with the Lions, other teams will be combining to face the tourists under the banner of a Highveld XV and a Coastal XV.
The size of the task that will be facing Ian McGeechan’s tourists is best illustrated by the fact the Sharks team for their opening game against Western Province in Round 1 will contain no fewer than four members of the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup winning squad.
Johan Muller, JP Pietersen, Jannie du Plessis and Albert van den Berg are all in the Sharks’ starting line-up, while there are another four capped players in the 22. they also have eight players on duty with the Springboks
The old war horse AJ Venter, veteran of 101 Currie Cup battles, will lead the charge for Western Province having joined them this season. That is just as well, because they are down 18 players for a variety of reasons.
The Lions will have home advantage over the Blue Bulls, while Boland Cavaliers travel to Valke
The six strong First Division programme will start next week. The South-West District Eagles beat the Mighty Elephants in the final last year.
All players in the First Division will have their eyes on a place in the three combined teams to face the Lions next year – a Highveld XV, Coastal XV and Emerging Springboks.
The opening fixture against the Highveld XV will see the Lions face players drawn from the Leopards, Falcons, Bulls, Lions and Pumas. The Coastal XV will draw from the Mighty Elephants, Border and Eagles.