Cash van Rooyen (right) has worked under John Mitchell, Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin (left) at the Lions. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – Defending Currie Cup champions, Western Province, the Sharks and the Golden Lions will be determined to make strong statements in their opening Currie Cup Premier Division matches this weekend after byes saw them sit out of the first round.

The Golden Lions and Lager Griquas will meet in the first of three Currie Cup matches – proudly brought to you by DirectAxis Financial Services and Nashua – in Johannesburg on Friday, and on Saturday the Cell C Sharks host the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Durban, while DHL Western Province takes on the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in Cape Town. The Steval Pumas have a bye.

At Emirates Airline Park, the Xerox Golden Lions will be determined to get out of the blocks quickly against a Tafel Lager Griquas team desperate to make up for their defeat last week, as home victories are essential with the competition playing out over a single round this season.

The last time the men from Kimberley won in Johannesburg was in 2012, but with the side set on correcting the wrongs of last week, and the home team playing in their first match, it could be a tight battle.

Newly-appointed Lions coach, Ivan van Rooyen, named six players who featured in the Super Rugby final in his match-day squad, while four Junior Springbok players who participated in the World Rugby U20 Championship in the south of France were included. They are Manuel Rass and Wandisile Simelane (centres), Tyrone Green (winger), and utility forward PJ Steenkamp.

Tafel Lager Griquas made two personnel changes and a positional switch to their team with Eric Zana (fullback) and Pieter van Vuren (lock) being drafted into the starting XV, while AJ Coertzen moves from fullback to wing.

The Sharks and Blue Bulls will meet in a repeat of last season’s semi-final at Jonsson Kings Park, and with the North Gautengers coming off a bonus-point win in Bloemfontein last weekend, the hosts will have to hit the ground running.

The Durbanites’ have won nine of the last 10 matches between the sides, although the one defeat was at home in 2015. Chiliboy Ralepelle will lead a Cell C Sharks team featuring a mixture of youth and experience, with the halfback pairing of Louis Schreuder and Robert du Preez dictating play.

The Blue Bulls, in turn, made three personnel changes, which sees Springbok centre Jesse Kriel start in what will mark his 10th Currie Cup appearance. Hendre Stassen (lock) and Jaco Visagie (hooker) also earned starts.

In Cape Town, Western Province will look to make the most of their home ground advantage when they meet the Toyota Free State Cheetahs, who will see a victory as non-negotiable after going down in their opening match. The Capetonians registered their first win in four outings against the Free Stater’s last season, and with home victories being vital, they are expected to come out firing.

Dillyn Leyds will captain DHL Western Province, who has another young leader in their ranks in Junior Springbok and former SA Schools captain, Salmaan Moerat. The 20-year old will pair up with JD Schickerling at lock, while Josh Stander has been named at pivot with experienced scrumhalf Jano Vermaak by his side.

The Toyota Free State Cheetahs, meanwhile, made seven changes to their starting team, which features a new halfback pairing of Louis Fouche and Tian Meyer. Fouche, Dries Swanepoel (centre) and Aidon Davids (No 8) will make their debuts for the team.

Currie Cup Premier Division second round fixtures:

Friday: Golden Lions v Griquas | Ellis Park | Kick-off: 7pm | TV: SS1

Saturday: Sharks v Blue Bulls | Venue: Kings Park | Kick-off: 3pm | TV: SS1 - Western Province v Free State Cheetahs | Venue: Newlands | Kick-off: 5.15pm | TV: SS1 

African News Agency (ANA)

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