· Currie Cup Premier Division in earlier time-slot
· Argentina XV, Namibia to feature in the Currie Cup First Division
· Makeover for SuperSport Rugby Challenge
· SA Rugby U19 Championship becomes week-long tournament
South Africa’s senior rugby landscape will have a strong international flavour in 2019, with the return of an Argentinean XV, and full-strength Namibian and Zimbabwean teams, to the provincial scene, while the Currie Cup Premier Division will 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 U19 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 – sponsored by DirectAxis Financial Services – with the Vodacom Blue Bulls, Xerox Golden Lions, Cell C Sharks, DHL Western Province, Toyota Free State Cheetahs, ISG Pumas and Tafel Lager Griquas competing for the title.
The competition has been moved to an earlier time slot in the season though, from 13 July to 7 September, which means that the Currie Cup Premier Division will not overlap with the Rugby World Cup, Vodacom Super Rugby or the Guinness 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 Down Touch 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, Xerox Golden Lions, Vodacom Blue Bulls, ISG Pumas, Down Touch Griffons and Tafel Lager Griquas.
In the South Section, Zimbabwe, DHL WP, the Boland Cavaliers, SWD Eagles, Eastern Province, the Cell C Sharks and Toyota Free State Cheetahs will battle it out.
The only major change in the junior competition structures will see the SA Rugby U19 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 U20 and U21 Championships show slight changes – only six teams will play in the U21 competition (DHL WP, Toyota Free State, the Vodacom Blue Bulls, Xerox Golden Lions, Cell C Sharks and Leopards).
Eastern Province will take part in the U20 competition this year with the eight other teams – the Leopards, Tafel Lager Griquas, Down Touch Griffons, Valke, ISG 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 CEO Jurie Roux.
“The Argentineans are former Vodacom Cup champions and they have proven in Vodacom 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, the Cell C Sharks, will meet Tafel Lager Griquas in Durban in the opening match of the Premier Division on Friday, 12 July, while the Xerox Golden Lions will take on the ISG Pumas in Johannesburg, and DHL Western Province hosts the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Cape Town on Saturday, 13 July.
Of the change to the SA Rugby U19 Championship, Roux said: “The revised SA Rugby U19 Championship will serve as a top-class festival of the best junior talent, which will be particularly appealing to the Junior Springbok coaches with an eye on the annual World Rugby U20 Championship.
“The potential of discovering new talent is also fantastic, as several quality players who missed out on selection for the U18 SA Rugby Youth Week teams will have an opportunity to make their presence felt.”
Amateur provincial rugby will also feature on the local landscape with a pilot project in SWD, where eight municipally-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 28 September and concluding on 9 November.
2019 SA Rugby Competition dates (fixtures TBC):
26/27 April to 29 June – SuperSport Rugby Challenge
5/6 July to 31 August – Currie Cup First Division
12/13 July to 7 September – Currie Cup Premier Division
6/7 September – Currie Cup Promotion-Relegation
21/22 June to 7 September – SA Rugby U21 Championship
12/13 July to 31 August – SA Rugby U20 Championship
21 to 29 September – SA Rugby U19 Championship
28 September to 9 November – Amateur Provincial Pilot Project