Cape Town - The Currie Cup will kick off in dramatic fashion this weekend as six of the seven participating teams take to the field in the first of nine action-packed weekends of rugby, with the north-south derby between Western Province and the Blue Bulls in Cape Town taking centre stage.
The Sharks and Griquas will kick off South Africa's premier domestic competition in Durban on Friday evening, which will be followed by match-up's between the Golden Lions and Pumas in Johannesburg, and Western Province and the Blue Bulls in Cape Town, on Saturday.
The Free State Cheetahs have a bye.
The tournament is set to deliver top entertainment with the new #Reloaded campaign, which will see fans being treated to an enhanced stadium experience featuring trendy music and a new food offering, and comedians selected as 'Official Unofficial Team Commissioners', among other activations.
Siv Ngesi (Western Province) and Bouwer Bosch (Blue Bulls) will make their debuts as 'Official Unofficial Team Commissioners' at Newlands on Saturday, and lucky fans will have the opportunity to interact with them.
The Currie Cup First Division will enter its second week, and with the Boland Cavaliers, Jaguares XV and Leopards aiming to build on their winning starts to the competition, fans will be treated to another entertaining round of action.
The SWD Eagles and Leopards will take to the field in George in the only match on Friday, while Saturday's action will see the Border Bulldogs take on the Valke in East London, the Jaguares XV meet the Boland Cavaliers in Potchefstroom, and the EP Elephants battle it out with the Griffons in Port Elizabeth.
Currie Cup Premier Division:
In Cape Town, Western Province will be hunting their fifth Currie Cup victory in a row against the Blue Bulls when the teams meet in a repeat of last year's semi-final on Saturday. They will also look to maintain their good track record at home against their Pretoria rivals.
But both teams will be acutely aware that Western Province have won eight of their last nine home matches against the visitors from Pretoria, while the other match ended in a draw.
Western Province flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis and Edwill van der Merwe (wing) will make their Currie Cup debuts, while Corne Fourie (prop) will make his Western Province debut in a settled team featuring youth and experience.
The Blue Bulls welcome back Springbok lock Lood de Jager following his recovery from a shoulder injury and he will slot into a familiar team, featuring only one new face in Wian Vosloo (flanker), who was at the Sharks last season.
Vosloo will make his Currie Cup debut for the team alongside De Jager, Cornal Hendricks and Rosko Specman (wingers) and Wiehahn Herbst (prop).
The clash between the Sharks and Griquas could also be a good showcase with the visitors high on confidence after winning the SuperSport Rugby Challenge combined with the upsets the Kimberley side have caused against the KwaZulu-Natalians in the past.
The hosts have won their last five matches against Griquas, but they have suffered a few shock defeats both at home and in Kimberley against them in the last few years, meaning they will not underestimate the opposition.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt named a settled starting team featuring 10 players who played in the Super Rugby quarter-final against the Brumbies, while the notable inclusion in his team is experienced Springbok JP Pietersen, who returned from France.
Junior Springboks Phendulani Buthelezi (looseforward) and Sanele Nohamba (scrumhalf) have been included on the bench and will make their Currie Cup debuts if they take to the field.
The Griquas starting team bears a resemblance the one that defeated the Pumas in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, with the side being guided by their experienced flyhalf and captain George Whitehead.
SuperSport Rugby Challenge runners up, the Pumas, will have a point to prove against the Golden Lions when they cross paths at Emirates Airline Park.
The Lowvelders will be determined to put the disappointment of going down in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge final behind them, especially after winning all of their matches en route to the final, and to make a strong statement early in the competition.
They are, however, expected to face tough competition from the hosts, who are equally determined to show that they can be a force to reckoned with after a disappointing Super Rugby campaign.
Golden Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen named a team featuring a good mix of young players who have made a strong statement in the last two seasons and experienced players, with Springbok scrumhalf Ross Cronje leading their charge.
The Pumas, under the captaincy of Ryan Nell (centre), feature nine players who started in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge final, which will give them confidence going into the clash.
Currie Cup Premier Division Round 1 fixtures:
Friday, July 12:
Sharks v Griquas
Venue: King Park, Durban
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Vusi Msibi and Archie Sehlako
TMO: Christie du Preez
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jeremy Ward (co-captain), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Tera Mtembu (co-captain), 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Substitutes: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Rhyno Smith.
15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Michal Haznar, 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Enver Brandt, 10 George Whitehead (captain), 9 Zak Burger, 8 Neill Jordaan, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Ian Groenewald, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 AJ Le Roux, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Substitutes:16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Mox Moxili, 18 NJ Oosthuizen, 19 Johan Momsen, 20 Zandre Jordaan, 21 Chriswell September, 22 Tinus de Beer, 23 Eduan Keyter.
Saturday, July 13:
Golden Lions v Pumas
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Referees: Jaco Pretorius and Eduan Nel
TMO: Pro Legoete
15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Wayne van der Bank, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (captain), 8 James Venter, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Jan-Henning Campher, 1 Dylan Smith.
Substitutes: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Ruben Schoeman, 20 Len Massyn, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Manuel Rass, 23 Jan-Louis la Grange.
15 Devon Williams, 14 Morne Joubert, 13 Neil Maritz, 12 Ryan Nell (captain), 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Jacobus Marais, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Hermanus Carel du Preez, 6 Jeandre Rudolph, 5 Stefan Willemse, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Marne Coetzee, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Andrew Beerwinkel.
Substitutes: 16 Cornelius Els, 17 Wikus Groenewald, 18 Hilton Lobberts, 19 Phumzile Maqondwana, 20 Ashlon Davids, 21 Christopher Smith, 22 Henko Marais, 23 Morgan Naude.
?Western Province v Blue Bulls
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen and Jabian Jeftha
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans
15 SP Marais, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 Chris van Zyl (captain), 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie.
Substitutes: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Josh Stander, 23 Craig Barry.
15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Wian Vosloo, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Ruan Nortjie, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima.
Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Dylan Sage.