Western Province are the defending champions in the Currie Cup. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Every game will be vital when the Currie Cup Premier Division kicks off on Friday August 17, with South Africa’s top teams taking each other on in a single round of action-packed rugby.

The action will culminate on Saturday, October 27 with the Currie Cup final, which will be preceded by the finals in SA Rugby’s Provincial Under-21 and Under-19 competitions.

Adding to the excitement for die-hard Currie Cup fans, the fixture list includes three Saturday triple-headers, while the action will be limited on the days of the Springboks’ local Tests in the Rugby Championship against the Pumas (August 18 in Durban), Wallabies (September 29 in Port Elizabeth) and the All Blacks (October 6 in Pretoria).

The seven teams that participated in the competition last season – Western Province, the Sharks, Golden Lions, Blue Bulls, Free State Cheetahs, Pumas and Griquas – will again battle it out for the coveted gold trophy.

The Currie Cup Premier Division will kick off in Bloemfontein on Friday, August 17 when the Free State Cheetahs host the Blue Bulls in a replay of the 2016 final, and the pool stages will conclude on October 13.

The local season will reach its climax with the semi-finals and final in the following fortnight.

The only other match in the opening round of the Premier Division will be between the Pumas and Griquas in Nelspruit, at 2.05pm on Saturday, August 18.

“We regard the Currie Cup as the cornerstone of South African rugby, and we are looking forward to a single pool round, featuring strength-versus-strength encounters, in which every match is likely to have a direct bearing on playoff places – it’ll be edge-of-the-seat stuff for the teams from tournament kickoff to the end of October,” said SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux.

“The provinces, who are our main stakeholders, through the franchise committee, made certain suggestions about the format of the Currie Cup and we listened.

“Statistics don’t lie, and research from last year has shown that the Currie Cup remains a popular and critical part of the rugby landscape.

“Premier Division match attendances increased by 12.5 percent in 2017, and viewership reversed international sporting trends by jumping 20 percent year-on-year in terms of total unique viewers, and the average audience was up by 55 percent.

“We believe the reduced number of fixtures will lead to even higher match attendances and higher average viewership, which will ensure that the competition takes centre stage.

“It will also ensure that every game is critical to determining the eventual winner, as each match will be a compelling occasion among seven pretty evenly matched teams.”

The Currie Cup First Division starts on Friday, August 24 and concludes on Friday October 19 with the final (including the Under-20 competition).

This competition will follow the same format as last season, with eight teams playing a double round of matches, followed by the semi-final and final.

The First Division will be contested by the Griffons, Valke, Leopards, Boland Kavaliers, SWD Eagles, Border Bulldogs, Welwitschias and Eastern Province.

African News Agency (ANA)