Some facts of the Currie Cup Premier Division teams ahead of the first round of matches this weekend.
The title holders begin the defence of their crown this weekend severely hampered by international call-ups.
No fewer than 16 players are unavailable for selection - 15 due to their Springbok commitments and Steven Sykes has left for Irish club Leinster - so it will be a completely unfamiliar side from the one that did duty in the recently concluded Super Rugby competition.
Newly appointed captain Keegan Daniel is the only forward survivor from the starting XV that did duty in last season's 30-10 final victory over Western Province in Durban.
Among the backs, only Stefan Terblanche and Louis Ludik remain.
The main acquisitions for John Plumtree's men is the signature of veteran centre Marius Joubert, who joins from Clermont Auvergne in France, and French flyhalf Frederic Michalak.
Among those to watch out for in the new season are hookers Kyle Cooper and Craig Burden, No.8 Marcell Coetzee and fetcher Francois Kleinhans.
The Bulls will, once again in a World Cup year, have to call on their rookies and fringe players in their pursuit of Currie Cup glory.
The side is without 16 regular starters, who are part of the Springbok group, but this number could be whittled down to eight by the time the World Cup squad is named.
Despite the absence of many seasoned campaigners, however, the Blue Bulls still have Springboks Akona Ndungane, skipper Gary Botha, Dewald Potgieter and Jaco Pretorius available for their campaign.
The side also boasts talent and a number of fringe players will now have the opportunity to stake their claim in the absence of the likes of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Wynand Olivier.
New Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar will blood a few Currie Cup rookies with youngsters like fullback Jurgen Visser, loosehead prop Corné Fourie and centre Francois Venter expected to play in the top-flight competition for the first time.
They have also secured the services of former Lions hooker Willie Wepener who will add to the team's depth at hooker.
The Blue Bulls' success in this year's domestic tournament will depend on how well the youngsters make the step up from the junior structures to senior level.
While most other sides must become accustomed to not having their Springbok players, Western Province also have to make do without a host of injured squad members.
Eighthman Duane Vermeulen, scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage, lock Reinhart Elstadt, flank Pieter Louw, prop JC Kritzinger and flyhalf Lionel Cronje are all nursing injuries.
If there is one thing, however, that the Cape Town side has proved this year, it is that they know what is needed to bleed youngsters at the highest levels.
Young Nick Koster will be one of the key men to watch while a lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of flyhalf Gary van Aswegen who showed great promise at Super Rugby level before succumbing to injury.
Province should again have the hungriest players in the competition and if they continue to defend like they have over the past two seasons, a Currie Cup title is well within their reach.
It has been 12 years since the Lions last lifted the title, and as the union's president said at the team's season launch, they are going through "adverse" times.
Boardroom politics aside, the Lions must fancy their chances after a relatively successful Super Rugby season.
Elton Jantjies and Butch James, who are part of the Springboks' Tri-Nations and World Cup plans, will both be unavailable, but they are nonetheless the top-flight team with the least disruptions.
In their absence, a lot will be expected from Burton Francis who is one of the better kicking flyhalves in the competition.
Key players to watch for this season are flanker Derick Minnie and scrumhalf Jano Vermaak.
As was the case in 2007, when they reached the final, the Lions should again be among the top three sides if they manage to build momentum early in the season.
The Currie Cup specialists never seem to run out of world class forwards, and phenomenal flyhalf Sias Ebersohn will make them even more dangerous this year.
Ebersohn is a match winner and the fact that he only needs to skip pass his inside centre to find his twin brother Robert - who is just as talented - could make the lives of opposing defenders very difficult.
Having bid farewell to hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss, fetcher Heinrich Brussow, loosehead prop Coenie Oosthuizen and eighthman Ashley Johnson, who will be away on Tri-Nations duty, it will be interesting to see how the men selected in their places face up to the challenge.
On the up-side, centre Andries Strauss will make his return from injury and will also take over the captaincy.
One of the men to watch this season will be Springbok Sevens star Boom Prinsloo who will play at eighthman where he made a name for himself in the Varsity Cup for Shimlas.
Very few sides in the competition have mastered the art of beating the men from Bloem in their backyard, so despite the disruptions in personnel, they should still be favourites to reach the knockout stages of the competition.
A new coach, a new team ethos and a few reinforcements should make the Potchefstroom-based team far more threatening than they were last year.
The Leopards survived last season's promotion-relegation play-offs and will consider themselves fortunate to have another crack at it with the big guns.
Few members of last year's team have stayed on as many have been lured to the First Division.
The team's goal, however, has not changed from what it was in 2010, although failure to finish the competition in sixth place could be detrimental to their future as a final decision on the competition's fate next year has not yet been made.
Underestimating this team, especially when they play at home, could damage the hopes of some of the title holders.
The dangerous Griquas have shown over the last two years that they can no longer be considered minnows.
They will be boosted by a host of players who featured in this year's Super Rugby season as part of the Cheetahs franchise.
Players like fullback Riaan Viljoen, nippy scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius and loose forward Davon Raubenheimer have been instrumental in the Cheetahs' achievements this season.
Barry Geel, Martin Muller, Ryno Barnes and Lourens Adriaanse also gained Super Rugby experience at the Cheetahs.
Griquas' lack of depth has been their Achilles heel in the Currie Cup as they have suffered many injuries midway through the season.
Most teams, however, have found the going tough in Kimberley and Griquas will hope to use the tough conditions at home to their advantage.
With the possibility of the Currie Cup being reduced by two teams next year, the Pumas are hell-bent on finishing sixth in the 2011 edition of the Premier Division.
They were the surprise package of the 2010 Currie Cup as they caused upsets against two of the big unions in their debut year, narrowly beating the Blue Bulls in Nelspruit and defeating the Lions in Johannesburg.
The Pumas' potent pack of forwards will now be complimented with a versatile backline with the inclusion of four Springbok Sevens players.
Key players to watch out for among the forwards are flanker Corne Steenkamp and eighthman Doppies le Roux.
The Pumas have the ability to cause an upset or two, but a lack of depth will ultimately provide a stumbling block in securing that targeted sixth place.
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