Currie Cup

Golden Lions out to make 2016 a year to remember with Currie Cup triumph

A turbulent build up to the Currie Cup is unlikely to distract defending champions Golden Lions in their quest to make 2016 a year to remember.

Golden Lions won the competition for the 11th time in 2015 with a 32-24 win over Western Province, and their sights will firmly be set on mounting a successful defence of the trophy.

The club's Super Rugby side, Lions, have made it all the way to the final of the southern hemisphere competition, where they will face New Zealand outfit Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday.

It is the best performance the Johannesburg team have mustered in their tournament's 20-year history under SANZAAR, and, regardless of this weekend's result, head coach Johan Ackermann will be keen to build on that success on the domestic stage. 

Due to their trip to New Zealand, Golden Lions have received a bye this weekend in the first round of this season's nine-club Currie Cup, though their lack of preparation for the competition could be a hindrance.

Furthermore, unlike in previous seasons, they are likely to lose a number of players, potentially including the likes of Julian Redelinghuys, Warren Whiteley and Elton Jantjies, to the Springboks for the forthcoming Rugby Championship.

The build-up to the competition was somewhat overshadowed by the situation at Eastern Province Kings, who survived a vote to be replaced by Leopards amid ongoing financial concerns.

The Kings' participation was only confirmed on Thursday with the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality supplying a R20 million (US$1.5m) support package to enable them to compete.

Their first-round match against Griquas has consequently been postponed until a later date, meaning the opening match will pit two of the tournament's most-successful sides against one another.

Blue Bulls host Western Province – Currie Cup champions on 23 occasions – in Pretoria on Friday in a repeat of the 2015 semi-final.

The Bulls will be hoping to avenge the 23-18 defeat suffered at Loftus Versfeld last October and kick their campaign off with a victory.

Sharks, captained by former Springbok Keegan Daniel, will be hoping their youthful squad can improve on a fifth-place finish last year, while Boland Cavaliers are back in the competition after a seven-year absence having finished third in qualification.

The majority of eyes, however, will be on Golden Lions, and whether they can match the Bulls' 2009 southern hemisphere and domestic double amid new challenges.