“We are also excited to welcome back Namibia, who have delivered a number of competitive performances in the (First Division) in the past,” says SA Rugby chief Jurie Roux. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s senior rugby landscape will have a strong international flavour in 2019 with the return of an Argentina XV, and full-strength Namibian and Zimbabwean teams to the provincial scene.

The Currie Cup Premier Division will also move to an earlier time-slot in the season.

The Currie Cup First Division will be bolstered by an Argentina XV and Namibia, the SuperSport Rugby Challenge format will change, and the SA Rugby Under-19 Championship will be played over a week in a similar format to the SA Rugby Youth Weeks.

The status quo will remain in the Currie Cup Premier Division, with the Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Sharks, Western Province, Free State Cheetahs, Pumas and Griquas competing for the title.

The competition has been moved to an earlier time slot in the season though, from July 13 to September 7, which means that the Currie Cup Premier Division will not overlap with the Rugby World Cup, Super Rugby or the PRO14.

The Currie Cup First Division will now feature eight teams in an action-packed tournament, with the Argentina XV and Namibia battling it out with defending champions SWD, Boland, the Griffons, Valke, Leopards and Eastern Province.

The SuperSport Rugby Challenge will be split into two sections – North and South – with the top two teams from each section progressing to the semi-finals.

The North Section will consist of Namibia, the Leopards, Valke, Golden Lions, Blue Bulls, Pumas, Griffons and Griquas.

In the South Section, Zimbabwe, WP, the Boland Cavaliers, SWD Eagles, Eastern Province, the Sharks and Free State Cheetahs will battle it out.

The only major change in the junior structures will see the SA Rugby Under-19 competition being converted into a compact one-week tournament comprising 16 teams – the 14 provincial unions, Limpopo and another team to be determined in due course – at a single venue.

In a new development, club players in their first year out of school will be eligible for selection, in line with the competition’s objective of unearthing new promising players who have not represented their provinces at school or junior provincial level.

The SA Rugby Under-20 and Under-21 Championships show slight changes – only six teams will play in the Under-21 competition (WP, Free State, Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Sharks and Leopards).

Eastern Province will take part in the Under-20 competition this year with the eight other teams – Leopards, Griquas, Griffons, Valke, Pumas, Limpopo, SWD and Boland.

“The introduction of the Argentina XV and the return of Namibia to the Currie Cup First Division will add an exciting element to the competition in 2019, and we have no doubt that it will boost the tournament,” said SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux.

“The Argentinians are former Vodacom Cup champions, and they have proven in Super Rugby and on the international circuit that they are a force to be reckoned with. We expect nothing different from them in the Currie Cup First Division.

“We are also excited to welcome back Namibia, who have delivered a number of competitive performances in the competition in the past.”

Defending Currie Cup champions Sharks will meet Griquas in Durban in the opening match of the Premier Division on Friday, July 12, while the Golden Lions will take on the Pumas in Johannesburg, and Western Province hosts the Blue Bulls in Cape Town on Saturday, July 13.

Amateur provincial rugby will also feature on the local landscape with a pilot project in SWD, where eight municipal-based representative teams will be chosen from within the borders of the union, divided into two divisions, namely the Cup and Shield.

The Pilot Project will be played over seven weeks, commencing on September 28 and concluding on November 9.

2019 SA Rugby Competition Dates

April 26/27 to June 29: SuperSport Rugby Challenge

July 5/6 to August 31: Currie Cup First Division

July 12/13 to September 7: Currie Cup Premier Division

September 6/7: Currie Cup Promotion-Relegation

June 21/22 to September 7: Under-21 Championship

July 12/13 to August 31: Under-20 Championship

September 21 to 29: Under-19 Championship

September 28 to November 9: Amateur Provincial Pilot Project

African News Agency (ANA)