EP side on a mission to return to premier division
Demoted Eastern Province will mount an all-out assault to regain their prized Currie Cup premier division status when the lower first division league kicks off in August. EP start their Currie Cup First Division programme with a tough home match against the Boland Cavaliers on August 26.
After being axed from the new strength versus strength premier division, the Kings have set their sights on a quick return to the top flight.
New EP Rugby Union president Andre Rademan has made it one of his missions to get EP promoted as soon as possible.
The Kings were relegated after failing to win any of the eight matches they played in the premier division last season when they were hastily assembled after a cash crisis hit the union.
Adding extra excitement to the Currie Cup this year is the reintroduction of a promotion challenge series between the winner of the first division against the last-placed premier division team.
Shortly after his election, Rademan estimated that the demotion of the EP Kings from the premier division to the lower first division had cost the union about R7-million.
“We were in the premier division and we were downgraded to the first division and that cost us in the vicinity of R7-million, which we cannot afford to lose,” Rademan said.
“But can we go back to the premier division?”
“Of course we can by playing ourselves back. How do we do that? That is why I immediately want to start getting role-players in.
“We have so much talent in the schools that we can tap into and bring those players into club rugby.
“Our Currie Cup will be forced to use three, four or five of our club players in the Currie Cup squad.”
The first division, which will be contested by the Griffons, Falcons, Leopards, Boland Cavaliers, Border Bulldogs, Eastern Province, SWD Eagles and Welwitschias, starts in the last weekend of August.
The semifinals are on October 14 and final on October 20.
At this stage, it is not known who will coach EP in the Currie Cup.
The team playing in the SuperSport Challenge are being coached by former Springbok prop Robbi Kempson, but his duties with the EP Academy may rule him out of the job.
It is also possible Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids could stay on to mastermind EP’s bid for Currie Cup promotion.
Last year, Southern Kings forwards coach Barend Pieterse coached the Currie Cup team.
In the premier division, defending champions the Free State Cheetahs will kick off their campaign on July 21 when they host the Sharks in Bloemfontein.
The opening round of action will also see the Blue Bulls travel to Kimberley to take on the Griquas on July 22, while the Pumas will host the Golden Lions in Nelspruit on July 23.
Western Province have a bye in the first round.
EP’s first division fixtures are:
August 26: EP v Boland Cavaliers, September 2: Welwitschias v EP, September 9: Leopards v EP, September 16: EP v Border Bulldogs, September 23: Griffons v EP, September 30: EP v Falcons, October 7: Eagles v EP.
Meanwhile, Stefan Ungerer will captain the EP Kings team to play the Border Bulldogs in a SuperSport Rugby Challenge match in East London tomorrow.
The team is:
Xandre Vos, Tango Balekile, Chris Heiberg, Mzwanele Zito, Cameron Lindsay, SF Nieuwoudt, Stefan Willemse, Brandon Brown, Stefan Ungerer (capt), Pieter-Steyn de Wet, Neil Maritz , Michael Brink, Stokkies Hanekom, Sonwabo Majola, Keanu Vers. Replacements: Michael Willemse, Roche van Zyl, Thembelani Bholi, Zingisa April, Rudi van Rooyen, Garrick Mattheus, Rouche Nel.