Welwitschias face Currie Cup champions – The Namibian

THE Welwitschias will face a baptism of fire when they launch their 2023 rugby season against the South African Currie Cup champions, the Pumas this week.

The two sides meet in a warm-up match at the Hage Geingob Stadium tonight, which will serve as preparation for their inaugural Airlink Cup on Saturday.

The Airlink Cup was launched last week when the independent regional airline said it aims to become an annual fixture between the Airlink Pumas and the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias, while it plans to expand the competition by including u20 men and women’s teams in the future.

“Airlink has close ties and strong connections with Namibia and Mpumalanga, which are key markets for our Southern African and long-haul international leisure and business traveller customers,” said Airlink CEO and managing director, Rodger Foster said.

“Just as we are proud to play our part in providing the air travel connectivity that unlocks opportunities for economic growth, we view the Airlink Cup as another way to cement those ties through the shared passion for rugby,” he added.

“The match on Wednesday and the Airlink Cup trophy contest on Saturday are great season preparation opportunities for the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias and the Namibia’s 2023 World Cup teams,” said Petrie Theron, Namibian Rugby Union president.

The Airlink Cup will serve as preparation for the Welwitschias’ campaign in the Currie Cup First Division, also known as the Mzansi Challenge, which kicks off against the Border Bulldogs on 25 March.

The Airlink Pumas earlier this week announced a 27-man squad for the encounters, which mostly includes up-and-coming young players as well as a few experienced players.

The squad includes five players who featured in last year’s historic Currie Cup final when the Pumas won the title for the first time after beating the Tafel Lager Griquas 26-19.

They are prop forward and captain IG Prinsloo, prop Eduan Swart, lock Deon Slabbert, flyhalf Tinus de Beer and the former Blue Bulls left wing Jade Stigling.

Some other players to look out for include flanker Orateng Koikanyang and flyhalf Gene Willemse, who were both in fine form for the Pumas in a 47-17 friendly victory against the Griffons last week.

Welwitschias coach Chrysander Botha, meanwhile, named two teams that will be in action tonight, with a Blue Team playing the first half and a Red Team the second half.

The Blue Team will be captained by eighthman Prince !Gaoseb and includes other experienced players like Jason Benade, Max Katjijeko, Mahepisa Tjeriko and Thomasau Forbes in the pack, as well as some upcoming backs like AJ Kearns, Henrique Olivier, AJ Zaahl, Danco Burger and Jeandre Loubser.

The Red Team will be captained by eighthman Johan Luttig and includes national players like Des Sethie, Nelius Teron, Jacques Theron, Andre van der Berg, Gino Wilson, PJ Walters and Justin Newman, as well as upcoming players like Le Beau du Preez, Lezardo Vos and Denzo Bruwer.

Botha said they want to give all the players in their training group an opportunity to play.

“We have selected two full teams as we currently have a large players group, and want to give everyone an opportunity to get some much-needed game time after a lengthy pre-season,” he said.

“We are building up to operate at optimal levels for 60 minutes, with impact players closing out games, come the first game of the Mzanzi Challenge,” he added.

Botha said they are expecting a strong physical onslaught from the Pumas.

“The Pumas are a team that pride themselves in the physical aspects of the game and they have shown they can compete with the best in South Africa. The demands in that aspect will be high and to limit the risk of injury we need to limit the amount of game time initially to build towards sufficient match fitness,” he said.

“Lastly what a great opportunity for our local club players to go out and compete against the Currie Cup champions,” he added.

Tonight’s match start’s at 19h00 and will be preceded by a match between HTS I and WHS II at 17h00.

The gates open at 16h00 while the entrance fee is N$50 for all seats.

The teams are attached.

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