The Pretoria side won all 14 of their matches last season and posted some big scores as they reaped the rewards of contracting a professional squad, who not only returned interest on that investment, but set a very high standard for other teams to follow.

This season, teams will again play a double round of fixtures to showcase the growth of the women’s game in the country, with the Bloem side – First Division champions in 2023 – as the new kid on the block and eight teams to contest the league.

The Free Staters, mindful of the perils of playing in the topflight and keen to adjust to the demands of rugby at that level, boosted their ranks by roping in some quality players from elsewhere.

The most noticeable are three former EP Queens in Anacadia Minnaar, who has played at flyhalf for the Springbok Women and Springbok Women’s Sevens teams, as well as Junior Springbok Women outside backs Robyn Strydom and Johnerecia Booysen, two of the most talented in their age group in the country.

Darren Colby, who was promoted after assisting Anton Smit with Free State last season, is one of three new head coaches in 2024. Border’s Nonkosi Sobandla and former Springbok Women regular Namhla Siyolo – in charge at the EP Queens – are the others.

Siyolo, who played 21 Tests for South Africa, will have the vast rugby knowledge of Zenay Jordaan (36 Tests) available as her assistant, while Sobandla, who played at hooker for the Border side for over a decade, will bring that experience to the array of coaching skills on display in the 2024 competition.

Thomas Chowles (Sanlam Boland Dames), Hayden Groepes (Bulls Daisies), Stanley Raubenheimer (DHL Western Province), Timmy Goodwin (Golden Lions Women) and Lungisa Kama (Sharks Women) all have impeccable coaching credentials which point to a very tightly contested tournament.

The opening shots of the tournament will be fired in Athlone and Alberton, where DHL WP will host Sharks Women and the Golden Lions Women await EP Queens respectively.

The Border Ladies will open their campaign against the Bulls Daisies in a 13h30 kick-off in East London, before the Sanlam Boland Dames will welcome the Free State Women to Premier Division rugby in Wellington at 15h00.

The late game will provide some pointers on what the Free State Women will bring to the tournament, but also show insights into the recruitment drive of the home team, who amongst others, will have Springbok Women players Nompumelelo Mathe, Nomawethu Mabenge, Chuma Qawe and Nokubongo Siko in their ranks for the first time.

The long-serving Bernice Strydom, who will again captain Free State for the season, played for the Dames a couple of seasons ago and has a good feel of what will be needed to be successful.

“Our objective for this year is to finish in the top half of the log and hopefully reach a semi-final,” said Strydom. “Of course, this will require a lot of hard work for us, but we are keen and eager to start this season and will take each game as it comes.”

The match between Golden Lions Women and EP Queens will be streamed on the SA Rugby YouTube channel.

Match information:

DHL Western Province v Sharks Women
Venue: City Park Stadium, Athlone
Date: Saturday, 13 April
Referee: Siyanda Pikoli
Kick-off: 13h00

Golden Lions Women v EP Queens
Venue: Alberton Rugby Club
Date: Saturday, 13 April
Referee: Bulela Qwane
Kick-off: 13h00
Livestream: SA Rugby YouTube channel

Border Ladies v Bulls Daisies
Venue: Police Park, East London
Date: Saturday, 13 April
Referee: Angie Bezuidenhout
Kick-off: 13h30

Sanlam Boland Dames v Free State Women
Venue: Boland Stadium, Wellington
Date: Saturday, 13 April
Referee: Zoe Naude
Kick-off: 15h00

Team information:

Bulls Daisies:
Head Coach: Hayden Groepes
Log position 2023: First

DHL Western Province
Head Coach: Stanley Raubenheimer
Log position 2023: Second

Border Bulldogs
Head Coach: Nonkosi Sobandla
Log position 2023: Third

Sanlam Boland Dames
Head Coach: Thomas Chowles
Log position 2023: Fourth

Sharks Women
Head Coach: Lungisa Kama
Log position 2023: Fifth

Golden Lions Women
Head Coach: Timmy Goodwin
Log position 2023: Sixth

EP Queens:
Head Coach: Namhla Siyolo
Log position 2023: 7th

Free State Women
Head Coach: Darren Colby
Log position 2023: First Division champions (promoted)