Can the Bulls make it a hat-trick or will it be third time lucky for Sharks?
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CAPE TOWN – The 2022 Currie Cup kicks off next weekend in a revamped South African domestic rugby season, which will in future run from September to the end of June.
The Currie Cup will be played from January to June going forward.
And while the Bulls won two titles in a single year in 2021, they won’t necessarily be the outright favourites to make it a hat-trick this season… for the provincial competition.
The Bulls have brought in a heavyweight mentor in Gert Smal, a former Springbok and Ireland assistant coach, who has also been in charge of the Stormers, Western Province and Border, and coached at a Japanese club.
The Bulls were able to bolster their squad for the previous two tournaments with some big-name signings such as Duane Vermeulen, Morné Steyn, Johan Goosen and Marcell Coetzee, but with the URC being played at the same time this season, they will have to rely on their impressive crop of youngsters to carry them through the Currie Cup.
Having lost the last two finals, the Durban side may look to juggle their significant resources carefully between the Currie Cup and URC in order to bring a trophy to Kings Park.
They have invested heavily in their squad over the past 12 months, with big-name Springboks such as Siya Kolisi and Bongi Mbonambi joining the likes of Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi on the east coast.
With that kind of depth, their Currie Cup team should be a formidable outfit as well, with someone like Scotland international flank Dylan Richardson probably turning out in this competition when the likes of Kolisi, Phepsi Buthelezi and Sikhumbuzo Notshe are available for the URC side.
The Sharks have also chosen a separate coaching group for the Currie Cup, with former Bok prop Etienne Fynn partnered by ex-wing JP Pietersen.
The Lions have showed encouraging signs in the URC already under the new coaching staff on Ivan van Rooyen’s watch, with Jaque Fourie, Ricardo Loubscher and Albert van den Berg as the assistants.
The Johannesburg-based union have also gone the route of a specialist Currie Cup coaching group, with Mziwakhe Nkosi as the head coach, supported by
Wessel Roux, Philip Lemmer and Wynand Ellis. But while their big guns will feature mainly in the URC, Nkosi will be calling on the stars of the victorious Under-20 side that won the national title last year to make an impact in the Currie Cup.
They will look to play exciting, attacking rugby, although they will be lacking the experienced campaigners that the Bulls and Sharks will be able to call on.
The Cape side had a difficult start to the URC, but will hope to put a competitive team together that could be considered Currie Cup title contenders.
Veteran coach Jerome Paarwater has been roped in once more to take charge of the WP side, with Stormers boss John Dobson concentrating on the URC tournament.
While the likes of Evan Roos, Salmaan Moerat and Angelo Davids will be the young bright lights in the Stormers set-up, Paarwater will look to bring a new brigade of junior stars through their first full senior season.
Flyhalf Sacha Mngomezulu has already made quite an impression in Cape Town, while the pack won’t need to take a step back to the other teams’ forwards, with flank Marcel Theunissen and hooker JJ Kotze having already featured at senior level.
The Cheetahs are usually the best equipped of the provinces to cause an upset against the franchise teams, while the Pumas and Griquas showed last season that they won’t be pushovers either.
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie has formed a formidable squad in recent months, with the likes of Bok centre Frans Steyn, full-backs Clayton Blommetjies and Cohen Jasper, as well as tough forwards like Rynier Bernardo and Aidon Davis around.
With the Bloemfontein side not part of any international competition at the moment, they will want to prove a point by reaching the semi-finals at least.*