By Ruan Marais
With the Springboks preparing for an arduous Rugby Championship after yet another drawn out super rugby series, South Africa’s eight top Unions faced off in a depleted Currie Cup.
There were several new faces in this year’s edition following the expansion to eight teams. The EP Kings were granted a place for relinquishing their right to challenge the lowest ranked South African Super rugby franchise till their automatic inclusion in 2016 while the Griquas qualified after a pointless promotion series with the other six second tier unions, following their relegation last year.
The surprise inclusion however remains the Pumas, who after several impressive seasons in the Currie Cup First Division, finally managed to qualify for the Currie Cup Premier. Coached by the stoic and stern Jimmy Stonehouse, and despite lacking any major household names, the Pumas have built a brand of physical, forward based, high tempo rugby. Their fan base might be smaller than their medical staff, but after defeating the Cheetahs in their opening encounter, they will see the play-offs as a realistic goal.
It was pleasing to see a return to Currie Cup for the EP Kings (despite the manner in which inclusion was granted), and the largest crowd of the weekend (just over 17 000) affirmed the love for rugby in the region, though many will be away fans based in Port Elizabeth. They will struggle, but at least it will be entertaining, with divisive captain Luke Watson involved in several scuffles during his side’s encounter with Western Province.
With just one round being played, a lot can still change add Springbok call-ups and releases playing a massive part in the final outcome. The Sharks, Lions, moderately unchanged from their Super Rugby outfit, and Western Province will be the favourites to lift the Cup, with the other unions either having lost too many players to other obligations or just not having them in the first place.
Losing Finalist: Sharks
Wooden Spoon: EP Kings
Player of the weekend:
Renaldo Bothma – no. 8 – Pumas – follow Renaldo on twitter: @renaldobothma
24 year old Namibian international Bothma had an abrasive evening. With an excellent work-rate, the loose forward will see this year’s Currie Cup as a springboard to play Super Rugby next season.