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Currie Cup Predictions – Round 1

A new date and plenty of new coaches will make for a game-changing edition of the Currie Cup, which kicks off on Friday evening, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

A new date and plenty of new coaches will make for a game-changing edition of the Currie Cup, which kicks off on Friday evening, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

With the competition set to run concurrently with the United Rugby Championship in the realigned South African rugby calendar, the “Big Four” based in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town have new coaching teams, while Griquas have a new mentor as well.

How the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers/Western Province juggle their duties will be one of the fascinating fresh layers of the new era, and with a small window open for them to unleash their leading Springboks, we could be in for a star-studded start to the oldest domestic rugby competition in the world this weekend.

Also adding extra spice to this year’s Currie Cup is the announcement that the wooden spoonists, when it’s all set and done, will be relegated in favour of the top South African team in the First Division, a shake-up that’ll stand for two seasons before promotion/relegation clashes come into the equation at the end of the 2026 season.

The heightened importance of every match makes for must-watch action and teams will have the same goal in mind this weekend – to get off to a winning start. The Bulls start the defence of their title on the road against the Pumas on Friday night, while Saturday sees the Free State Cheetahs face Griquas and Western Province play host to the Lions.

Pumas v Bulls

Friday, 14 January – 19:00

The Pumas drew the short end of the stick first up but they won’t be intimidated by the daunting task of going up against the three-peat pursuing Bulls in the tournament opener. Instead, they’ll see it as an opportunity to cause a big upset straight out of the shoot.

The Lowvelders are nothing if not fighters and are at their best in their backyard. Having said that, they’ve lost several of their stars to the local URC franchises. Pieter Jansen van Vuren, Morgan Naude, Matt More and Ginter Smuts are among the key senior players the Pumas are now without, the quartet having all linked up with the Lions.

With the second round of the competition taking place on Wednesday and the South African URC teams resuming their campaigns next weekend, the opening round is the perfect time for them to shake off the festive season rust. The cunning Bulls have done just that by naming a strong team and will kick-off the Gert Smal era in emphatic fashion.

Prediction: The bit of drizzle forecast will limit the visitors to a degree, so I’m backing the Bulls by 21.

Free State Cheetahs v Griquas

Saturday, 15 January – 14:30

It’ll be the second time in as many weeks that these neighbours meet, this time in an official fixture. The Cheetahs eased to a 38-26 win in last weekend’s pre-season warm-up game and while results aren’t always the main priority is such hit-ups, in this case, it showed the considerable edge the Bloemfontein side currently holds over the men from Kimberley.

Being treated like red-headed step-children by SA Rugby has, ironically, led to the Cheetahs being the most stable of the Currie Cup sides heading into the competition. Hawies Fourie is still at the helm and although they’ve lost Rosko Specman, the rest of their squad – headlined by Springbok Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn – remains intact.

Griquas have lost Gideon van der Merwe, the heart and soul of the side for so long, to the Cheetahs and mentor Scott Mathie, who’s now coaching Major League Rugby club the New England Free Jacks. Pieter Bergh, who’d put himself on the map as coach of CUT in the Varsity Cup, has taken over the reins at the Peacock Blues, who have potential, but with 12 players making their debuts for the team, the trip to Bloemfontein is a bridge too far for an opening assignment.

Prediction: It’ll be a cloudy day in Bloemfontein with a thunderstorm notice. The afternoon looks okay, though, as far as that’s concerned but there is a 57% chance of rain, which should help out Griquas. Free State Cheetahs by 19.

Western Province v Lions

Saturday, 15 January – 17:00

This is possibly the first case where we’ll see the impact of the different strategies the franchises employ to cope with the intertwining two-tournament poser. The Lions lashed the Stormers 37-19 in their URC clash in Cape Town last time out in early December, but this is set to be a whole different ball game.

The Lions have gone in the opposite direction than the other franchises by splitting their squad into two distinct URC and Currie Cup camps. The thinking behind it is to limit the risk of Covid outbreaks and to allow new mentor Mziwakhe Nkosi and his assistant’s space to put their stamp on their team, explained URC coach Ivan van Rooyen.

The bulk of the Currie Cup team will consist of youngsters who won the national Under-20 competition last year, which suggests they’ll be in a season-long battle to make the step-up to the more bruising physicality of senior rugby. Province have quality players in key positions, none more pivotal than Tim Swiel, whose experience should go a long way towards giving new coach Jerome Paarwater a winning start.

Prediction: Western Province by 14.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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