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Absa Currie Cup fixtures for 2014

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absaThe fixtures for the Absa Currie Cup Qualifying Competition and the new eight-team Premier Division were released by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) on Tuesday.

The Qualifying Competition, which will be contested by GWK Griquas, the Leopards, SWD Eagles, Boland Cavaliers, Down Touch Griffons, Border Bulldogs and Valke, will kick off on the first weekend of June and run until 19 July, when the top team on the log will be granted entry into the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division.

The start of the eight-team Absa Currie Cup Premier Division – contested by the Cell C Sharks, DHL Western Province, EP Kings, Toyota Free State Cheetahs, Golden Lions, Vodacom Blue Bulls, Steval Pumas and the winner of the Qualifying Competition – is scheduled for the weekend of 8/9 August, a week after the Vodacom Super Rugby Final. It will run until the final weekend of October, when the final will take place.

The eight teams will be divided into two sections on 2013 log positions: Section X (DHL Western Province, Golden Lions, Vodacom Blue Bulls, EP Kings) and Section Y (Cell C Sharks, Toyota Free State, Steval Pumas, Qualifier). The teams will play home and away within their sections followed by a single cross-conference round before semi-finals and final.

The fixtures for the Absa Currie Cup First Division, which kicks off in the last weekend of August and runs until the second week of October, will be finalised at the conclusion of the Qualifying Competition.

In 2015, the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division will consist of the six franchise teams plus two non-franchise teams, which will be determined as follows:

• If the two non-franchise teams finish 7th and 8th in the 2014 Absa Currie Cup Premier Division they will both play in a 2015 qualification round of eight teams.
• If one non-franchise team finishes in the top six of the 2014 Absa Currie Cup Premier Division they will automatically qualify for the 2015 Absa Currie Cup. The other non-franchise team will play in a 2015 qualifying round of seven teams.
• If both non-franchise teams finish in the top six of the 2014 Absa Currie Cup Premier Division, they will automatically qualify for the 2015 tournament and there will be no qualifying tournament in 2015.

Absa Currie Cup Qualifying Competition (home teams named first, final dates and kick-off times TBC):

Round 1 – 6/7 June
Leopards v SWD Eagles
Down Touch Griffons v Boland Cavaliers
GWK Griquas v Border Bulldogs
Bye: Valke

Round 2 – 13/14 June
SWD Eagles v Down Touch Griffons
Boland Cavaliers v GWK Griquas
Valke v Leopards
Bye: Border Bulldogs

Round 3 – 20/21 June
SWD Eagles v Valke
Border Bulldogs v Boland Cavaliers
GWK Griquas vs Leopards
Bye: Down Touch Griffons

Round 4 – 27/28 June
Boland Cavaliers v SWD Eagles
Down Touch Griffons v GWK Griquas
Valke v Border
Bye: Leopards

Round 5 – 4/5 July
Leopards v Down Touch Griffons
Border Bulldogs v SWD Eagles
Valke v Boland Cavaliers
Bye: GWK Griquas

Round 6 – 11/12 July
Boland Cavaliers v Leopards
Border Bulldogs v Down Touch Griffons
GWK Griquas v Valke
Bye: SWD Eagles

Round 7 – 18/19 July
Leopards v Border Bulldogs
SWD Eagles v GWK Griquas
Down Touch Griffons v Valke
Bye: Boland Cavaliers

Absa Currie Cup Premier Division (home teams named first, final dates and kick-off times TBC):

Round 1 – 8/9 August
Vodacom Blue Bulls vs Golden Lions
EP Kings vs DHL Western Province
Steval Pumas vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs
Qualifier vs Cell C Sharks

Round 2 – 15/16 August
DHL Western Province vs Vodacom Blue Bulls
Golden Lions vs EP Kings
Cell C Sharks vs Steval Pumas
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs Qualifier

Round 3 – 22/23 August
Vodacom Blue Bulls vs EP Kings
DHL Western Province vs Golden Lions
Cell C Sharks vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs
Steval Pumas vs Qualifier

Round 4 – 29/30 August (Absa Currie Cup First Division starts)
Vodacom Blue Bulls vs DHL Western Province
EP Kings vs Golden Lions
Steval Pumas vs Cell C Sharks
Qualifier vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs

Round 5 – 5/6 September
DHL Western Province vs EP Kings
Golden Lions vs Vodacom Blue Bulls
Cell C Sharks vs Qualifier
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs Steval Pumas

Round 6 – 12/13 September
Golden Lions vs DHL Western Province
EP Kings vs Vodacom Blue Bulls
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs Cell C Sharks
GWK Griquas vs Qualifier

Round 7 – 19/20 September
Vodacom Blue Bulls vs Cell C Sharks
DHL Western Province vs Qualifier
Golden Lions vs Steval Pumas
EP Kings vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs

Round 8 – 26/27 September
Qualifier vs Golden Lions
Cell C Sharks vs EP Kings
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs Vodacom Blue Bulls
Steval Pumas vs DHL Western Province

Round 9 – 3/4 October (Absa Currie Cup First Division semi-finals)
Qualifier vs EP Kings
Cell C Sharks vs Golden Lions
Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs DHL Western Province
Steval Pumas vs Vodacom Blue Bulls

Round 10 – 10/11 October (Absa Currie Cup First Division Final)
Vodacom Blue Bulls vs Qualifier
DHL Western Province vs Cell C Sharks
Golden Lions vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs
EP Kings vs Pumas

Semi-finals – 17/18 October

Absa Currie Cup Premier Division Final – Saturday, 25 October

‘Expansive’ Stormers a real threat

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Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith says the Stormers are more expansive in New Zealand and will pose his side a real threat.

Realising that the Stormers will still be frustrated from failing to beat the Crusaders when they had more than enough chances to do so, Smith is aware they will be throwing all they have at the defending champions in order to register a vital win on tour.

“They deserved to win that game [against the Crusaders]. “They were really strong one-on-one, their defence was really good and their pack were very efficient with their rolling maul from lineouts.

“Flank Schalk Burger was absolutely outstanding for them. “One thing we have noticed when they come on tour to New Zealand, the Stormers get a bit more expansive and [move] away from that attritional style of game they play at home.
“They have talented backs with Jean de Villiers, and Gio Aplon is dangerous and Damian de Allende looks really good at inside centre.

“They offer a real threat to us,” Smith told Sportal. However, the Stormers have only scored three tries so far this season, with one apiece in their loss the the Lions (10-34), close win over the Hurricanes (19-18) and last week’s reverse at the hands of the Crusaders (13-14), and are averaging just 14 points per game.

Smith said while it was nice to be unbeaten after four rounds of Super Rugby, the exciting factor for the Chiefs was there was still plenty of room for improvement. They have beaten the Crusaders (18-10) and Highlanders (21-19) so far, and had their bye last weekend. “It’s exciting because we have so much still to improve,” Smith said as his side prepares for Friday’s game.

Among the aspects of play the Chiefs need to improve is their supply of ball from lineouts, and their overall ball retention. They have been putting themselves under pressure by not mastering these features while they also need better discipline.

“We need a bigger share of the ball in order to create more attacking play,” Smith said.

The Chiefs are slowly moving towards having their full squad available for selection. At this stage it is only likely to be centre Bundee Aki and outside back Robbie Robinson who will not be available for the three-game tour to Australia and South Africa, while Robinson is looking unlikely to feature at all this season.

Lock Brodie Retallick and prop Ben Afeaki, who were both out after their head clash in the opening game against the Crusaders, are likely to be available this week while utility backs Tom Marshall and Gareth Anscombe are close to being ready for action, as is flank Sam Cane.

The numbers were up when they re-assembled on Monday and there was a ‘pretty vibrant’ air about the place, according to Smith.

Smith is pleased with the character his side has showed to win their two matches so far, even when they were not at their best.

The versatility the selectors have developed, in the backs especially, has proved its worth in light of the injury situation and Smith said while there were utility players in the side, each of them had the ability to play in specialist positions.

He cited the example of Tim Nanai-Williams who could specialise at fullback, wing or centre, and he said having to use halfback Augustine Pulu on the wing in a pre-season game due to the injuries, had created another position covered should the situation arise.

“If we hadn’t selected like that we would have been in trouble [with injuries],” Smith said. There is the extra advantage of competition being created for places in the side as a result.

Smith said initial impressions of the 2014 Super Rugby season was that it was going to be a topsy-turvy affair and he wasn’t buying into the scenario where early losses knocked teams out of play-offs chances.

“We lost five early games in 1998 and came back and won it [with the Crusaders] so there is a chance the critics could end up with egg on their faces. It is going to be pretty tight,” Smith added.

Split loyalties for Somerville

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imagesWhen the RaboDirect Rebels run out against the Crusaders on Friday night at AAMI Park, most people will have a strong idea of whether they are cheering on the 5 Stars or the Red & Blacks.

So spare a thought for All Black legend Greg Somerville; alumni of both Clubs, and while he spent just the one season at the Rebels in comparison to a decade at the Crusaders, ‘Yoda’ admits it will be tough to decide who to barrack for.

“I had different experiences with both teams, and I have fond memories of both,” he explains. “I hope the Crusaders and Rebels find form, and we see a great game; I don’t want to try and pick a winner!”

The big prop played fourteen matches in his one season in Melbourne, hanging up the boots and heading back across the ditch at the end of 2011, but clearly has a close affinity with the city he called home.

“The group when I was here were fairly reasonable blokes,” Somerville says with a laugh. “I still miss Melbourne; it treated us very well for the eighteen months we lived there and we really enjoyed it. I’m sure my wife would jump on the plane and go back over there in a heartbeat!

Somerville has enjoyed following the progress of two former rookie teammates, as well as a front row partner of his, since he left the Club.

“I’ve definitely enjoyed watching Foundation Rebels Hugh Pyle and Luke Jones improve over the last couple of seasons, after I played alongside them,” he says. “They were both pretty raw when they first arrived, but it’s been great to see them both develop and also stick with the Rebels. Considering how well they have been playing I’m sure they would have been chased by other teams in the last couple of years, so it’s awesome that they have stayed in Melbourne and I hope they are the ones who can help grow the culture and keep developing the franchise.”

“I’ve followed Laurie Weeks’ closely, after packing down in the front row with him at the Rebels. Laurie has always had the potential, and can play some great games, but the challenge for him is to put consistency on the board and put in big performances week in and week out.

“The new scrum laws probably favour him a little, being a little shorter and not as long in the limbs as others in the front row! The strength of keeping low and keeping the pressure on probably does suit him quite a lot, and I hope Weeksy goes as far as he can. He has the potential, and was always a guy you remember fondly as he was the heart and soul of the team with plenty of great banter. He’s one of those genuine guys that you enjoy playing with, and you always want to see those guys do well.”

The Rebels head into the match with a 50% record for the season, and on the back of a disappointing result in Perth last week, but Somerville has seen positives in the Club’s preparation for the 2014 Super Rugby season.

“I try and keep an eye on Super Rugby, (and I’m) watching more and more of it. I like to watch the trends and see how my old teams are faring.

“The Rebels did really well against the Cheetahs, with a new coach on board. They have obviously gotten rid of a few players and brought in some new guys, trying to find the right balance in the team. It was great to see them start the season with a win, and despite a loss last weekend against the Western Force, the camp should still have a good vibe. They had a very good pre-season as well, and good outcomes breed confidence in the camp; I’m pleased with what I have seen.”

The Crusaders, seven time champions, started the season with losses against conference rivals the Chiefs and Blues, but got their first win on the board against the Stormers on Saturday evening in Christchurch.

“The Crusaders getting off to a slow start is not all that foreign to them, to be honest,” Somerville says. “The franchise has been known for being a slow starter, but they back their systems and their players and grind their way back into the competition to be there at the end of the season. It’s a long competition, and they’re a classy outfit.”
Somerville retains some involvement in Rugby, and would love to get back over to AAMI Park to take in a match amongst the Rebel faithful this season.

“At the moment I am living just north of Auckland. I have been sampling odd jobs since I finished in Rugby two and a half years ago; it’s sort of like leaving school in that you try different jobs until you settle on one that’s going to be the ticket.

“I’ve been working outside on orchards, farms and vineyards; all sorts at the moment. It keeps me busy, along with looking after my kids. I have been working with the Rugby academy in Palmerston North, and I will also be the scrum coach this year for Hawkes Bay in the ITM Cup.

“I’m not the best communicator when it comes to keeping in touch, but it would be great to catch up with a lot of the boys. I would love to come over and hopefully I can do that later in the season, see what is happening and how things have changed and progressed. It would be great to catch up with a few of my old mates!”

Mealamu on his way home

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Blues hooker Keven Mealamu will return home to New Zealand after failing to overcome a calf injury.

The veteran Blues and All Blacks centurion was forced to withdraw from last week’s match against the Bulls in Pretoria after suffering a low grade calf strain late in the week.

Unfortunately his injury has failed to respond in the time frame that would make him available for this Saturday’s game against the Lions at Ellis Park, therefore the Blues have opted to send him home in order for him to prepare for next week’s game against the Cheetahs at Eden Park.

Mealamu will depart the Republic early on Tuesday evening local time (Wednesday morning NZ time) and will have a scan on his troublesome left calf on Friday.

Mealamu said he was incredibly disappointed to be returning home having played no part on the Blues’ tour of South Africa.

“I’m pretty disappointed and really gutted that I’m not able to stay on with the team,” Mealamu said.

“It’s just one of those things, I really want to help the team out but I can’t do that unless I’m one hundred per cent so I’m looking to head home tomorrow afternoon and get it right so that I can get back and get stuck into it again soon.

“I’m hoping to be back for the Cheetahs game so I’m close to being back out there, I just want to make sure it’s right so I can give 100 per cent for the team.”

Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan conceded Mealamu was a big loss to the side ahead of this weekend’s clash with the Lions.

“It’s a real blow for us,” Kirwan said.

“Kevvie is our matai, our leader and he’s great to have around the place. Even when he’s not playing he really contributes so we’ll miss him but we’ve just got to make sure we cover his position by bringing in a reserve and I would have loved to have kept him but we can’t.

“He just got a little strain in his calf and when you’re a front rower that’s like a sprinter having a hamstring problem so we’re just erring on the side of caution because we want to make sure Kevvie is with us for most of the season. We’ve decided to protect him a wee bit, send him home and not take the risk because if he blows it he’ll be out for 12 or so weeks.”

Auckland ITM Cup and Blues development hooker Gafatasi Su’a has been called up to replace Mealamu and will board a flight to Johannesburg tomorrow.

100 up for Jean

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f2d675531cac4fe5bfaec9dd69d123d5Stormers captain Jean de Villiers will make his 100th Super Rugby appearance when he leads his team out against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.

De Villiers will become just the second Stormers Super Rugby centurion, following in the footsteps of lock Andries Bekker who reached that landmark in last year’s tournament.

Meanwhile, coach Allister Coetzee has made three enforced changes to the Stormers’ starting line-up for this weekend’s meeting with the two-time defending champions on their home patch.

Ruan Botha will start at lock and his earn his first Super Rugby cap in the process, while the experienced duo of Tiaan Liebenberg (hooker) and Brok Harris (tighthead prop) come into the front row as replacements for Scarra Ntubeni and Frans Malherbe, respectively.

Malherbe, despite suffering a toe injury last week, drops down to the bench, while loose forward Siya Kolisi is back in the 23-man squad after resting his troublesome AC joint last weekend and Vodacom Cup hooker Stephan Coetzee comes into a Super Rugby match-day squad for the first time.

Should Malherbe not come through a final fitness this week, Boland Cavaliers prop Martin Dreyer – who will fly to New Zealand with hooker Coetzee on Tuesday – will come into the match-day 23.

Souht Africa’s Craig Joubert will be the referee for the clash which kicks off at 08:35 (SA time) on Friday.

Stormers:

15. Jaco Taute, 14. Kobus van Wyk, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Gio Aplon, 10. Demetri Catrakilis, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Schalk Burger, 6. Deon Fourie, 5. De Kock Steenkamp, 4. Ruan Botha, 3. Brok Harris, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 1. Steven Kitshoff

Subsitutes: 16. Stephan Coetzee, 17. Oliver Kebble, 18. Frans Malherbe, 19. Siya Kolisi, 20. Nizaam Carr, 21. Louis Schreuder, 22. Peter Grant, 23. Sailosi Tagicakibau

Attack will improve Cheetahs’ defence

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imagesCheetahs coach Naka Drotské believes that if his team improves its attack, the defensive frailties will also be resolved.

Unlike last year, when the Cheetahs’ defence was key to them reaching the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time, this season they have slipped tackles at an alarming rate. In the first two Australasian tour matches – defeats to the Rebels and Reds – the Cheetahs’ tackle success rate has dropped as low as 80 percent.

Against the Rebels (a 14-35 loss) the men from Bloemfontein missed 42 tackles and this past weekend against the Reds (a 33-43 defeat) it has ‘improved’ to 14 missed tackles. Drotské is adamant it has nothing to do with their defensive system, but rather their inability to retain possession on attack.

“I don’t agree with that statement [that our defence is poor],” Drotské told this website in an interview from the team’s training base on the Australia Gold Coast – where they are preparing before flying to New Zealand on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s encounter with the Hurricanes in Wellington. “The problem is that we can’t seem to take the ball through three or four phases on attack,” the Cheetahs mentor said, adding: “That resulted in us ending up defending for 70 percent of the time in games.

“I, personally, feel we have to focus more on getting our attack right. “Against the Rebels four of the five tries that were scored against us were from turnovers, after we had the ball on attack.” Statistics seem to support Drotské’s argument – against the Rebels they conceded 24 turnovers and last week against the Reds 18. “Last year was very different, when we managed to retain the ball through eight, nine or 10 phases – that is how we scored our tries.

“We are putting pressure on our defensive system with the way we attack. “We simply can’t retain possession through four or five phases.” The Cheetahs mentor said that through a combination of “hard work and a mental shift” they will rectify the problem. “In the past we have always been a team that did not start well,” he told this website, adding: “Last year we lost to the Sharks in Bloemfontein and then lost 3-45 to the Chiefs. “We managed to turn that around [and reached the play-offs] – it is important to again do it this year.”

The Cheetahs have n additional injury concerns and no players doubtful for the encounter with the Hurricanes. Flyhalf Johan Goosen, who was replaced on the hour mark, is not carrying any after-effects of his recent injuries and the coach said he was 100 percent fine to play. However, they have yet to hear how long Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen will be sidelined for, after returning home last week with his third neck injury in as many years.

“We are still waiting for Coenie [Oosthuizen] to go see [specialist] Dan Hugo,” the coach said, adding: “He hasn’t been able to get an appointment, so we don’t know what the situation is.”

By Jan de Koning

FNB Varisty Cup heats up

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Varisty Cup Logo
The coastal teams made a charge up the standings at the conclusion of Round Six of the 2014 FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International on Monday night.

There were important wins for FNB UCT, FNB NMMU and FNB Maties in an enthralling penultimate round of matches before the play-offs, leaving the competition wide open heading into the final week of league action.

The Ikey Tigers ran in four tries against FNB UFS-Shimlas to secure their first victory at home on the Green Mile this season and move into second place, just four log points behind pace-setters FNB NWU-Pukke.

The Cape team scored three tries playing into the wind in the first half and then went on to claim the bonus point after half-time as they romped to a 25-5 victory. This result leaves UFS-Shimlas down in sixth place after starting the round in third position.

Torrential rain in the northern part of the country had a big say in the other three matches, as FNB UJ and FNB UP-Tuks slumped to defeats at home, whilst NWU-Pukke were forced to work hard for their victory over FNB Wits in Potchefstroom.

Defending champions UP-Tuks suffered their second consecutive defeat at home, as the Madibaz ground out a crucial 19-9 win which saw them move past the Pretoria side into third place on the standings. It was NMMU’s second big scalp of 2014, having beaten the Maties back in Round One.

UP-Tuks are now level on log points with three-time champions Maties who ended UJ’s hopes of making the semifinals this season with a comfortable 24-8 victory.

Points difference is all that separates Maties and UP-Tuks on the log, which sets up their showdown in Stellenbosch next week perfectly.

NWU-Pukke were able to maintain their position at the top of the standings, but they were made to work hard for their 16-8 win by a determined Wits side that is still looking for their first victory in the competition.

Next week will see the final round of league action take place in the 2014 Varsity Cup – without doubt the most open competition since the inaugural event in 2008.

UFS-Shimlas will take on NMMU, Maties will host UP-Tuks, NWU-Pukke will entertain UJ and UCT will face Wits away on March 17 as just ten points separate the top six teams ahead of the semifinals, with home-ground advantage and play-off qualification on the line.

In the Varsity Shield two-time champions FNB CUT travelled to Alice where they earned a bonus-point 28-18 victory over FNB Fort Hare who are the only team to have beaten them since 2012.

Peter de Villiers’ FNB UWC secured a vital 24-17 win over the FNB TUT Vikings in Pretoria to move up to third place, just one log point behind the second-placed FNB UKZN Impi who had a bye.

The Varsity Young Guns showdown between defending champions UP-Tuks and NWU-Pukke had to be postponed until Wednesday due to the unplayable conditions, whilst in the other match FNB UJ notched a dramatic last-minute 28-24 win over the Steinhoff Maties Juniors.

In the Steinhoff Koshuisrugby Championship UFS champions Steinhoff Heimat scored five tries on their way to a 37-0 demolition of the Steinhoff Purple Cobras in Cape Town to consolidate their spot at the top of the Hi-Fi Corporation pool.

In the Incredible Connection pool Steinhoff Patria from NWU-Pukke edged the Steinhoff Medies Rebels 24-22 in Potchefstroom and the clash between Steinhoff Onderstepoort and Steinhoff Oppidani had to be postponed due to an unplayable pitch in Pretoria.