2010 Currie Cup preview

Discussion in 'ABSA Currie Cup' started by Teh Mite, Jul 7, 2010.

  1. Teh Mite

    Teh Mite TRF Legend

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    It is little more than a few days before the start of the 2010 Currie Cup season where the defending champion Blue Bulls will be determined to retain their trophy and win the domestic title for the 24th time.

    One of the world's oldest rugby tournaments will once again see the likes of the Blue Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Griquas, Sharks and Western Province fight it out for the historic silverware, while the Leopards and the newly-promoted Pumas complete the line-up.

    This year marks the 71st season in the competition since it started way back in 1889, and the competition will be contested from July 9 through to October 30.

    Blue Bulls


    After seeing off the Cheetahs 36-24 in the 2009 final, the men in blue will have high hopes of repeating last year's double by winning both the Super 14 and Currie Cup.

    However they will have to do so without no less than eleven Springboks - a tough ask indeed, considering the cavalry will only be returning come semi-final time... if the Bulls make it that far.

    The Blue Bulls' depth was severely tested last time out, and they had to rely heavily on the return of their top Boks to scrape through to the play-offs on points differential - which meant the end of the road for Griquas.

    This year, coach Frans Ludeke can't be relying on his Boks to save the Blue Bulls' bacon once again thanks to SARU's decision to manage the workload of 20 contracted players (seven of them Bulls) over a four-week period in preparation for the Rugby World Cup campaign.

    The Bulls will also be without their most experienced Super Rugby player Pedrie Wannenburg (Ulster) and scrum-half Heine Adams (Bordeaux) who have decided to pursue careers abroad. The rock-solid Tiger Mangweni has moved to Eastern Province, while injuries to Akona Ndungane, John Mametsa, Gerhard van den Heever and Jaco Pretorius have impacted on the defending champions' depth.

    Fourie du Preez's surgery has also hit the Blue Bulls hard - while his likely replacement at scrum-half, Francois Hougaard, has been called to do the business in the Springbok side for the upcoming Tri-Nations. On the plus side, the Blue Bulls get lock Wilhelm Steenkamp back from his loan to the Sharks, and impressive forward Juandre Kruger is also back after a stint at Northampton.

    Cheetahs

    The Currie Cup - unlike the Super Rugby competition - has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Free Staters in recent campaigns and last year's runners-up will be aiming to go one better in 2010.

    Lately, the Bloemfontein-based outfit's record over the past six years points to them as a team not to be taken lightly. They have played in five of the last six Currie Cup finals since 2004, won two and shared the trophy once.

    Having lost their opening four games in last year's Currie Cup, the Cheetahs bounced back to claw their way into the semi-finals where they upset the Sharks in Durban to set up another meeting with the Bulls in the final - fighting back from 24-0 down, reducing the deficit to just six points and then eventually going down 36-24.

    Naka Drotske's team will now be looking to continue their impressive run from the last few games of the Super 14 where they managed to stop a losing streak and finished off with some fine form. However, there was a stage in the Super 14 where they had more Griquas backs in their squad than Free State back-line players, and the loss of Sarel Pretorius, Naas Olivier, Riaan Viljoen and Bjorn Basson will be a big loss.

    The Cheetahs are also still without two key injured players in the form of number eight Frans Viljoen and hooker Adriaan Strauss, but have only lost prop CJ van der Linde to the Bok squad.

    Their loose forwards though, in particular, make for impressive reading: Hendro Scholtz, Heinrich Brüssow, Johan Wessels, Juan Smith, Francois Uys, Philip van der Walt, Ashley Johnson, Kabamba Floors and Boom Prinsloo are all in the Currie Cup group.

    The Cheetahs have also been using former Free State and England full-back Michael Horak, who has been appointed as a consultant and has this week been concentrating on the defence structure of the men in orange.

    Last year's finalists will also want to build their season on ball retention and more phase play. They gave notice that they are on their way to achieving this in a clinical 45-7 warm-up win against Border in East London over the weekend, where Free State stuck to their structures and ran in seven tries.

    Griquas

    Close but cigar - that's the best way to describe Griquas' run last year after knocking over a few big guns before missing out on a place in the last four by points differential.

    The surprise package in the 2009 Currie Cup led the standings for the most part of the competition after Round One. Needing just two points to go through to the semi-finals in the last of the round robin matches, they lost to the Sharks in Kimberley and only succeeded in achieving a single bonus point - going down 45-30.

    Some would say they were robbed after losing to Bok-laden teams during the latter part of the tournament, but they get another bite at the cherry this year and will have gained a few more fans from their brave outing in 2009. Griquas gave unequivocal notice that they will be a factor again after a superb season last year when they overran SWD Eagles 50-12 in Mossel Bay over the weekend.

    Eight tries by a confident team with a smattering of new blood blending well with the veterans like Springboks Riaan Viljoen and Bjorn Basson and other stalwarts, Naas Olivier and Ryno Barnes, showed they are ready for the tough competition.

    Griquas have, however, lost wing Trompie Nontshinga, prop Ruaan du Preez, wing Gavin Passens as well as locks Brendan Snyman and Jacques Lombard. On the other hand they have gained former Bulls lock Hendrik Roodt from the Waratahs, wing Zaheer Rylands from Western Province, Maties flank and captain Wesley Wilkins, former Pumas and Lions Super 14 fly-half Rudy Voigt as well as scrum-halves Warren Malgas and Marnus Hugo.

    Lions

    The Lions will be out to begin this Currie Cup season where they left off last year - on a winning note.

    One again, 2009 wasn't a memorable year for the Lions who lost more games than they won but ended off on a high note by beating Western Province and in the process, knocked them off the top of the log.

    Johannesburg's once mighty pride will be coached by Western Force and former All Black coach John Mitchell, who has been handed the difficult task of rebuilding a Lions legacy - albeit temporarily - from scratch. Lions director of coaching, Dick Muir, will be with the Springboks during the Tri-Nations in his capacity as back-line coach, and will return to the squad during the final four to six weeks of the Currie Cup.

    Former Springbok lock Johan Ackermann will be the forward coach while former All Blacks fly-half Carlos Spencer, who will act as player-coach, will look after the back-line - and the idea is that he will do more coaching than playing as the Lions look to blood young players for the future.

    The former Currie Cup champions of yester-year showed in this year's Super 14 that they are a team that are in desperate need of new ideas and perhaps Mitchell is the man to point the lost cubs in the right direction.

    The Lions were at times impressive in scoring seven tries in their 45-29 warm-up win over the Boland Cavaliers in Wellington, with the score an impressive 45-10 only 12 minutes from the end when replacements by the Lions lead to a loss of structure and three Boland tries.

    The win was sorely needed as a morale booster after the 13 losses from 13 in the Super 14 competition and although there is still much work to be done, they will be confident about their opening away match against the Leopards.

    The biggest signing for the Lions in the off-season was former Sharks centre Waylon Murray on a two-year contract, while prop Heinke van der Merwe, once hailed as South Africa's answer to the Bok front row, has decided to spend his future with Irish club Leinster.

    TBC...
     
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  3. Teh Mite

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    (Continued)

    Leopards

    The Leopards will be looking to cause some upsets this year after avoiding the drop to the First Division.

    The men from Potchefstroom cemented their spot in the Currie Cup Premier Division after seeing off the SWD Eagles 47-42 at Olen Park, but narrowly lost the return game 18-17 in George.

    After the two matches, the Leopards edged the Eagles on points difference, and they retain their spot in the top flight in 2010. For most of their history they've played in the second tier of the Currie Cup, but they were promoted to the Premier Division for the 2009 season.

    The Leopards finished just off last place in the 2009 Currie Cup ending up just a point above Boland but truth be told they were far superior to the team from Wellington and actually competed fairly well in the second half of the tournament. They went down 24-61 to the Bulls in their final match but were right there until the break trailing 17-21 and were also resting a few players ahead of this clash, which showed some promising signs.

    Leopards coach Chaka Willemse, too, is confident of a good season.

    They have regained a few players who have recovered from injury and Willemse points to the fact his players now know what to expect at this level. Their two training matches to date, plus the warm-up win against the Griffons over the weekend, will stand them in good stead.

    "We're happy to have survived, but there's a lot of hard work that lies ahead for us if we are to continue playing in the Premier Division," said Willemse.

    "But the guys are confident and will be playing to stay in the Premier Division again this year. I said all along that we would need to stay in the Premier Division for a couple of seasons before we got victories over some of the other unions. Hopefully in 2010 we'll achieve that."

    Pumas

    First Division champions the Pumas return to the Premier Division for the first time since 2006, after winning their promotion/relegation match against Boland last year.

    After losing in Wellington by one point - thanks to a last-minute penalty try - they then thumped Boland 40-3 in Witbank to gain entry to top flight rugby again.

    The Mpumalanga outfit were unbeaten at home throughout their 2009 campaign in the First Division and have already shown in a warm-up match against the Lions they will be a handful.

    Often seen as the underdogs of South African rugby, the Pumas have also been proclaimed dark horses at times and have the ability to upset the applecart on their home turf.

    They have newcomer Terry Jacobs - a former Western Province wing - to cause some damage out wide, while Springbok Sevens player Shaun Venter is back in the 15-man game. Former Lions' Super 14 players Hannes Franklin and scrum-half Jacques Coetzee are also back in the Pumas frame.

    The Sharks

    The Sharks have an opportunity to make up for their disappointing Super 14 campaign by doing well in this year's Currie Cup, where their die-hard fans will expect nothing less than a place in the final. Easier said than done!

    The men from Durban let themselves down in the last minute of the Currie Cup semi-final last year and won the title the year before, so they're certainly capable of having a good campaign.

    Coach John Plumtree has to make do without five of his Test players off on Tri-Nations duty, while injuries have also ruled out another five Springboks - nine Sharks in all - although they do have a fair bit of experience in the team still.

    Sharks number eight Willem Alberts (ankle) and Jean Deysel (wrist) had to undergo surgery after the Super 14, which has ruled them out of early contention for the Currie Cup. While the Boks have three of the Sharks front rowers aside from Bismarck du Plessis who is injured, but he'll be back and play for them at some stage of the competition which will give Plumtree some experience up front especially.

    In the meantime, Plumtree must now rely on a handful of Super 14 stars, such as loose forwards Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes, scrum-half Rory Kockott and full-back Stefan Terblanche as well as new recruit, Ross Skeate, who will lock in for the Sharks after a stint with French club Toulon.

    He also has Bok Alistair Hargreaves at lock but he still has to make his mark at provincial level. The Sharks have been bolstered by the presence of former Lions full-back Louis Ludik after a serious knee injury and fly-half Steve Meyer's turnabout after his retirement could be the solution to the team's fly-half problems.

    The Sharks have played two warm-up matches, registering an 80-3 victory over the Falcons and saw off a fired up Sharks U21 outfit with relative ease in their final match preparation scenario.

    The men in black and white kick-start their campaign against Griquas away from home, but regardless of the venue, the Sharks know that they will have to target wins wherever they play if they wish to make an impact from the start and end 2010 on a high.

    Western Province

    Western Province will want nothing more than to continue rewarding their loyal fans by advancing to their first Currie Cup final in nine years.

    It's taken nearly a decade of trying, but 2010 could finally be the year where the men in blue and white hoops bring the country's much coveted silverware back to Cape Town. The last time Western Province lifted the most prestigious prize in South African domestic rugby was in 2001, when they beat the Sharks 29-24.

    Semi-finalists last year, Province were three minutes away from finals glory before a high tackle by Sireli Naqelevuki on Bryan Habana allowed Morne Steyn to kick the winning penalty and deny the home side at the death.

    Having reached the Super 14 final under the guise of the Stormers, expectations will be high in the Cape and rightly so. However, just like the Blue Bulls and Sharks, coach Allister Coetzee will have his depth tested early on - especially in the back-line - with six backs and three forwards away in Australasia.

    Western Province have not only lost their Boks for the greater part of the competition, but will also be without full-back Joe Pietersen (Europe) and fly-half Peter Grant (Japan). On the plus side, they have near-forgotten Spring-bok fullback Conrad Jantjes back after more than a year's injury lay-off. Winger Nick Koster is also fit and raring to go - but he will only be used as the impressive number eight he was before being moved to wing.

    "With a couple of our senior players doing national duty, a number of junior players have joined our squad, and we've also worked on getting them up to speed in terms of game planning and preparation," said Coetzee.

    In Province's only warm-up before the competition starts this weekend, flank Pieter Louw scored a hat-trick in a 29-5 win over the Griffons in their friendly in Welkom. Four of Western Province's five tries came from mauls and, while they will be pleased with the performance of their forwards, there was very little to be seen of the Province back-line.

    They open their campaign against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, and know an improved performance is necessary against last year's finalists.

    http://www.planetrugby.com/story/0,25883,16016_6250230,00.html
     
  4. Seaton

    Seaton Senior Member

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    Good previews

    Don't mean to be rude, but did you find them or make them? :p
     
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