Johannesburg – The new-look Absa Currie Cup competition, with only six sides playing a double round on a strength-versus-strength basis, starts this weekend.
To add to the intrigue, it is only the Golden Lions side that largely resembles their franchise team.
The call-up of the country’s top players, by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, and the departure of others to greener pastures overseas, make this a very open competition with many new faces.
The Blue Bulls field only two regulars from their Super Rugby side, Springbok winger Akona Ndungane and captain Dewald Potgieter, who is at No 8.
Wilhelm Steenkamp and Willie Wepener also saw a fair amount of action from the bench this season and there are a few others who played for short periods.
The experienced Griquas will go into their clash at Loftus on Friday night believing they can beat the Blue Bulls.
They have a number of former Bulls players who will want to prove that they were discarded too soon by the Loftus coaching hierarchy.
This match could be decided up front, where the Griquas lineout, in particular, could provide a solid platform.
Willie de Bruyn, this time at fullback, has an experienced JP Nel, Stephan Watermeyer, Rocco Jansen and Francois Brummer from their former Blue Bulls teams to supplement his unorthodox brilliance.
Shrewd former Currie Cup-winning coach of the Blue Bulls, Pote Human, is another plus factor for Griquas.
The Golden Lions go into their clash with the Free State Cheetahs, at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday, with a reasonably established side as they start the defence of their title.
It will be a match where conversion of opportunities could make the difference. Butch James at flyhalf, a scrum that dominated in the latter Super Rugby matches and a resolve to keep their best up for 80 minutes perhaps make the Lions marginal favourites.
The Free State are missing a few stalwarts because of migration to Europe and also through injury, including Heinrich Brussow.
Inspirational captain Adriaan Strauss’ international call-up will also affect them.
It is two different-looking sides that do battle at Newlands where the Sharks play Western Province in a different-level replay of the Super Rugby semi-final.
The Sharks have been decimated by national call-ups while Western Province, according to coach Allister Coetzee, will use the Currie Cup to start building for their 2013 Super Rugby campaign.
Blue Bulls v Griquas at Loftus, Friday 7.10pm
Blue Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Ulrich Beyers, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Clayton Blommetjies, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Cornell Hess, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Dawie Steyn. Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Lionel Cronjé, 22 Jan Serfontein.
Griquas: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Luzuko Vulindlu, 13 JP Nel, 12 Stephan Watermeyer, 11 Rocco Janse, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Jonathan Adendorff, 6 Justin Downey, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Ligtoring Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Rayno Barnes, 1 Stef Roberts. Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Hanru van Niekerk, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Jaco Nepgen,20Marnus Hugo, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Wilmaure Louw.
Golden Lions v Free State Cheetahs at Coca-Cola park, Saturday 5.05pm
Golden Lions: Andries Coetzee, JR Esterhuizen, Lionel Mapoe, Waylon Murray, Anthony Volmink, Butch James, Michael Bondesio, Derick Minnie, Josh Strauss, Cobus Grobbelaar, Franco van der Merwe, Hendrik Roodt, Jacobie Adriaanse, Callie Visagie, JC Janse van Rensburg (capt.). Replacements: Francois du Toit, CJ van der Linde, Willie Britz, Warren Whiteley, Ross Cronje, Guy Cronje, Ruan Combrinck.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn (capt.), 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Pieter van Zyl, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Lappies Labuschagné, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Waltie Vermeulen, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Francois Uys, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Phillip Snyman.
Western Province v Sharks at Newlands, Saturday 7.10pm.
Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Deon Fourie (capt.), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Don Armand, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Deon Carstens. Replacements:16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Brok Harris, 18 JC Kritzinger, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Damian de Allende.
Sharks: 15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jean Deysel (captain), 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Jandré Marais, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick. Substitutes:16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 Rosko Specman. – Sapa