The eight Currie Cup First Division teams will kick off their season this weekend following weeks of preparation, with the matches in George, Robertson, Windhoek and Kempton Park marking the first of seven action-packed pool rounds.
Friday’s opening encounter between the SWD Eagles and Leopards in George will mark an historic day in the Currie Cup First Division – proudly sponsored by Nashua and DirectAxis Financial Services – as South Africa’s leading female referee, Aimee Barrett-Theron, will become the first woman to officiate a match at this level.
In Saturday’s clashes, the Boland Cavaliers will meet Eastern Province in Robertson, the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias will host defending champions, the Down Touch Griffons, in Windhoek and, the Hino Valke take on the Border Bulldogs in Kempton Park.
The Leopards will be hunting their fifth victory in six matches against SWD, although it could be a tight clash following their 42-42 draw in their last encounter in Potchefstroom. The last time SWD defeated the Leopards in George was in 2014, which is expected to fuel their determination to win.
Eastern Province will be determined to start their season on a high against the Boland Cavaliers after a disappointing season last year in which they failed to win a match. They are, however, expected to face a tough challenge from the 2017 semi-finalists, who were victorious in the last three matches between the sides.
The clash between Border and the Hino Valke could prove to be a tight tussle given the number of closely-fought clashes between the teams in the last few years. The men from Kempton Park, who finished the pool stages last season in second place, registered a narrow 48-41 victory against their East London counterparts in their last outing, meaning they will not take the quality of the opposition for granted.
And in neighbouring Namibia, the Down Touch Griffons will look to build on their successful 2017 season, in which they suffered only defeat, when they meet the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias in Windhoek. They will, however, be wary of the hosts, who tested them to the limit last season despite going down 66-59.
With the Welwitschias now in their third Currie Cup First Division season, they will also be desperate to improve on their performance, which reflects only one win in 12 matches so far.
Currie Cup First Division Round 1 fixtures:
Friday, 24 August:
SWD Eagles v Leopards
Venue: Outeniqua Park, George
Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron
Assistant Referees: Ruhan Meiring and local appointment
Saturday, 25 August:
Boland Cavaliers v Eastern Province
Venue: Van Zyl Sport Grounds, Robertson
Referee: Graham Cooper
Assistant Referees: Viv-Richard Adams and Curtley Booysen
Windhoek Draught Welwitschias v Down Touch Griffons
Venue: Hage Geingob Stadium, Windhoek
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Referees: Local appointments
Hino Valke v Border Bulldogs
Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
Referee: Ben Crouse
Assistant Referees: Jaco Pretorius and local appointment