SA Rugby has announced the exciting competition structure for the 2023 rugby season, which will see an expansion of the Currie Cup Premier Division, the addition of the Mzanzi Challenge comprising five international teams, as well as the plenty of provincial women’s and age-group rugby.
With the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and European participation by the South African franchises already in full swing, SA Rugby have now confirmed the competitions structure for the rest of the local rugby calendar, which will include an eight-team Currie Cup Premier Division competition starting in the second week of March, and no fewer than 11 participants in the Mzanzi Challenge.
Seven teams will battle it out for top honours in the Women’s Premier Division, while the Women’s First Division comprises of eight teams. The dates and final structure of these competitions will be confirmed in due course.
Four South African franchise teams – the Vodacom Bulls, Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers and Emirates Lions – are currently involved in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, which culminates with the final on 27 May. Four weeks later, on 24 June, the local season will reach its climax with the Currie Cup Premier Division final.
The addition of the Down Touch Griffons, last year’s First Division champions, means the Airlink Pumas will have to defend their Currie Cup Premier Division title against seven other teams, over a double round of matches.
Meanwhile, six local teams will contest the Currie Cup First Division, which starts on 10 February, and they will be joined later by five international teams – the Diables (Spain), Simbas (Kenya), Windhoek Draught Welwitschias (Namibia), Tel-Aviv Heat (Israel) and Goshawks (Zimbabwe) – when the new Mzanzi Challenge kicks off on 24 March.
All 11 teams will contest the Mzanzi Challenge in a single round format which includes a semi-final and a final match during the 14-week period, with the final set for mid-June.
At the same time, the six local teams will carry points earned against each other into the race for Currie Cup First Division honours and the team who finish with the most log points (only matches involving the SA teams to be taken into account) will be crowned the winner.
On the provincial women’s rugby front, the Border Ladies will defend their Premier Division title against DHL WP – runners up against the Eastern Cape side the last two years – the Mastercard Golden Lions Women, EP Queens, Boland Dames, Blue Bulls Women and Cell C Sharks Women.
The Women’s First Division will once more feature eight teams – Leopards, Valke, Limpopo, Pumas, Free State, Griffons, Griquas and SWD. These competitions are scheduled to take place towards the middle of the year.
The provincial Under-20 sides will kick-off the local action when seven teams – the Vodacom Bulls, Toyota Cheetahs, Leopards, Lions, Cell C Sharks, DHL Western Province and Valke – will contest the SA Rugby U20 Cup competition over a single round.
The opening round of the SA Rugby U20 Cup competition starts on 18 February and the final match will be staged on 6 April 2023, after which the best players will be invited to join the SA Rugby Academy programme, which will then feed into the Junior Springboks for the return of the World Rugby U20 Championship.
The other age-group provincial competitions are the SA Rugby U21 Cup (from 19 August to 14 October) and the SA Rugby U21 Shield (from 5 August to 14 October), while an U19 provincial series and various Youth Weeks are also in the planning phase.
Mr Mark Alexander, SA Rugby President, said the announcement of the confirmed competition structure for 2023 follows an intense period of planning by the governing body and key stakeholders.
“In a year when we will see the Springboks defend their Rugby World Cup title in France, we are extremely pleased to announce these confirmed competitions, ranging from the Currie Cup Premier Division and brand-new Mzanzi Challenge, to our provincial women’s leagues right down to age-group rugby,” said Mr Alexander.
“I’d like to commend everyone involved in this planning process, including the provincial union CEOs and coaches, for working so hard in collaboration with our Rugby and Competitions departments to produce an incredible detailed and workable schedule for the entire local season.
“I also want to thank our broadcast partner SuperSport for again getting on-board with these plans in what promises to be an epic season of local rugby action.”
All fixtures will be confirmed in due course on the SA Rugby website.
2023 SA Rugby competition structure
Currie Cup Premier Division
Participating teams: Airlink Pumas (defending champions), Vodacom Bulls, Windhoek Draught Griquas, Cell C Sharks, DHL Western Province, Toyota Cheetahs, Sigma Lions, Down Touch Griffons
Opening round: 10/11 March (double round of matches)
Final: 24 June
Currie Cup First Division & Mzanzi Challenge
Participating teams: Leopards, Valke, Boland Kavaliers, Eastern Province, Border Bulldogs, SWD Eagles [Currie Cup First Division]; Diables (Spain), Simbas (Kenya), Windhoek Draught Welwitschias (Namibia), Tel-Aviv Heat (Israel) and Goshawks (Zimbabwe) [Mzanzi Challenge]
The highest-placed SA team will be crowned Currie Cup First Division league winners.
Opening round: 10/11 February
Mzansi Challenge Final: 17 June
Women’s Premier Division
Participating teams: Border Ladies (defending champions), DHL Western Province, EP Queens, Boland Dames, Blue Bulls Women, Cell C Sharks Women, Mastercard Golden Lions Women
Opening round and final: TBC
Women’s First Division
Participating teams: SWD (defending champions), Leopards, Valke, Limpopo, Pumas, Free State, Griffons, Griquas
Opening round and final: TBC
SA Rugby Under-20 Cup
Participating teams: Vodacom Bulls (defending champions), DHL Western Province, Lions, Cell C Sharks, Leopards, Toyota Cheetahs, Valke
Opening round: 17/18 February (single round of matches)
Final: 6 April
SA Rugby Under-21 Cup
Participating teams: Vodacom Bulls (defending champions), Toyota Cheetahs, Leopards, Lions, Cell C Sharks, DHL Western Province
Opening round: 18/19 August (single round of matches)
Final: 14 October
SA Rugby Under-21 Shield
Participating teams: Griffons (defending champions), Boland, Border, Eastern Province, Griquas, Limpopo, Pumas, SWD, Valke
Opening round: 4/5 August (single round of matches)
Final: 14 October