Currie Cup 2019: DHL Western Province vs. Phakisa Pumas
Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town
Date: Friday, August 9, 2019
We are past the halfway point of this truncated Currie Cup season and as a result of earlier rounds, this is simply a must-win game. Western Province sit fourth on the log – occupying the final playoff spot – with seven points from their three matches. Pumas sit level on points with WP in fifth spot, but they are in a worse position than their Newlands hosts as they have played four of their six games already.
Things have gone badly for Western Province in a way that few would have predicted after their 20-5 opening game win against the Bulls. Sure, it wasn’t pretty, but the win seemed to show that WP were going to be a team to be reckoned with again in 2019. Since then, though, the wheels have come off. Western Province has suffered back-t-back defeats to Sharks and Lions, which makes this clash with Pumas such an intriguing tie.
Pumas have one win and three defeats from their four games and they sit on seven points after picking up a couple of bonus points in their close defeats. They kickstarted their campaign last weekend when they defeated the favoured Sharks 27-20. It was a win that had been coming – all three defeats came by eight points or less – but if Pumas can’t back that win up with another here then it will be a case of too little, too late for their season.
The biggest piece of team news for either side – and perhaps the biggest piece of team news for the competition so far – is that Springbok captain Siya Kolisi will be starting on the flank for Western Province on Friday night. It will be Kolisi’s first game in the Currie Cup since 2014 and he works to get back to full fitness following an injury that ended his Super Rugby season early.
The change – one that can do nothing but boost the WP chances of winning – will see JD Schickerling slide into the tight five at lock and Salmaan Moerat drop to the bench. Wilco Louw will also return at tighthead, while we could see a Currie Cup debut for exciting back-rower Nama Xaba from the bench.
Pumas will be buoyed not just by beating Sharks last time out, but also in the manner of their win. Down 17-9 at halftime, it would have been easy for the club to fold up for the season and fade away. Instead, they come out with fire, forcing Sharks into bad mistakes and keeping the pressure on as they ran out 27-20 victors. Have no doubt about it, this is a dangerous and aggressive team that can unsettle Western province on their own patch.
Look for Chris Smith to again be the man carrying Pumas here. He scored 17 points last week on five penalties and a conversion, continually keeping the scoreboard moving and never giving Sharks room to breathe even when they were ahead. They can’t afford the indiscipline that saw Willie Engelbrecht sent to the sin-bin for an illegal clear out against Sharks if they are to have any chance at pulling off an upset.
Western Province have been bad in 2019 but it is hard to underestimate just how big of a deal it is to see Kolisi return to the lineup. It is not just his rugby skills and attitude that have been missed – as impressive as they are – but it is also his leadership ability in big moments. Add in that this game comes after their bye and it is hard to look past WP here. Just be aware that Pumas don’t ever seem to get blown away on the scoreboard if you are looking to make a score prediction bet.