Single-round fixtures for 'strength vs. strength' Currie Cup

Western Province's players celebrate with the trophy after beating the Sharks in the 2017 Curie Cup final. Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix

SA Rugby has decided to reduce the Currie Cup to a single-round competition to raise the level of excitement in South Africa's premier domestic rugby competition.

The seven teams that participated in the competition last season -- Western Province, the Sharks, Golden Lions, Blue Bulls, Free State Cheetahs, Pumas and Griquas - will again battle it out for the golden trophy.

The Currie Cup Premier Division will kicks off in Bloemfontein on Friday, 17 August, when the Free State Cheetahs host the Blue Bulls in a replay of the 2016 final. The pool stages will conclude on 13 October, with the competition coming to an end with the semi-finals and final in the following fortnight.

"We regard the Currie Cup as the cornerstones of South African rugby, and we are looking forward to a single pool round, featuring strength-versus-strength encounters, in which every match is likely to have a direct bearing on playoff places. It'll be edge of the seat stuff for the teams from tournament kick off to the end of October," said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.

"The provinces, who are our main stakeholders, through the Franchise Committee, made certain suggestions about the format of the Currie Cup and we listened.

"Statistics don't lie and research from last year has shown that the Currie Cup remains a popular and critical part of the rugby landscape. Premier Division match attendances increased by 12.5% in 2017 and viewership reversed international sporting trends by jumping 20% year-on-year in terms of total unique viewers, and the average audience was up by 55%.

"We believe the reduced number of fixtures will lead to even higher match attendances and higher average viewership, which will ensure that the competition takes centre stage. It will also ensure that every game is critical to determining the eventual winner, as each match will be a compelling occasion among seven pretty evenly matched teams."

The Currie Cup First Division starts on Friday, 24 August and concludes on Friday 19 October with the final. This competition will follow the same format as last season, with eight teams playing a double round of matches followed by the semi-final and final.

The First Division will be contested by the Down Touch Griffons, Hino Valke, Leopards, Boland Kavaliers, SWD Eagles, Border Bulldogs, Windhoek Draught Welwitschias and Eastern Province.