There is great anticipation for the start of the preparation series which kicks off this weekend, with Currie Cup champions the Bulls starting again as the team to beat.
It’s been almost a month since the Bulls beat the Sharks 26-19 in extra time in the Currie Cup final, and though the Bulls will be without key stars, they have become the yardstick in local rugby.
Inspirational Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen and lock Sintu Manjezi will both miss the entire campaign due to injuries and in Vermeulen’s absence flank Arno Botha is expected to step up as their new leader.
In the opening match on Friday the Lions will host the Pumas, and on Saturday the Stormers will welcome the Cheetahs, while on Sunday the Bulls will host newcomers the EP Elephants and the Sharks will host Griquas.
There is some real interest in the performance of the Elephants, but without a team sponsor they are expected to struggle with a squad mostly made up of club players.
The competition has been designed to give the top four franchises the chance to prepare themselves for the Rainbow Cup in April, while for the other teams it will serve as preparation for the Currie Cup.
It could also provide the Springbok players with quality game time ahead of the proposed British and Irish Lions contest in July and August.
Though some are still referring to the competition as the Franchise Cup, there’s actually no ‘cup’ on offer and there will be no playoff matches or a winner.
The eight teams have been divided in two sections, with the Bulls, Lions, Cheetahs and Griquas in Section A, and the Stormers, Sharks, EP Elephants and Pumas in Section B.
Teams, however, won’t play against sides in their own section but only against teams in the other section, with two matches scheduled at home and two away.
7pm – Lions v Pumas
5.15pm – Stormers v Cheetahs
3pm – Bulls v Eastern Province
5.15pm – Sharks v Griquas