The 2019 Currie Cup gets underway this weekend with the seven provinces in Division 1 of the competition looking to be crowned as the best team in South Africa.
This is going to be a unique season for the competition as many provinces will have their biggest stars rotating in and out of their squads, or not have their stars available at all, because of the quickly approaching World Cup in Japan.
The result is that we are about to see a nine-week season, a single round-robin format, with the top four teams progressing to the semi-finals and final stage. The Cup will be fierce, it will be quick, and every team will have to be firing from Round 1 in order to have a chance at lifting the trophy.
DHL Western Province – 2.20
The 2018 losing finalists are the favourites to win the whole competition this season. A big factor in this will be the availability of some of their Springbok players and the return to fitness of the Stormers players, specifically the forwards, who were injured close to the end of the Super Rugby season.
This is the team to beat, with players such as young prop Carlu Sadie ready to explode onto the rugby scene, and their power in the front row is going to be difficult for the other provinces to match.
Sharks – 3.60
Sean Everitt will be the coach this year for the defending champions as he looks to repeat the success the Sharks had under Robert du Preez in 2018.
After an up and down Super Rugby campaign, the Sharks will attack the Currie Cup hard as their season finished in frustrating fashion. JP Peterson is back from France and his experience will be vital in a talented backline that is short on games compared to some of the others in the country. Look for Curwin Bosch to have a big season now that he can feel comfortable in the fly-half jersey now that the younger Rob du Preez has moved to a different set of Sharks in England.
Blue Bulls – 4.50
The Blue Bulls are missing so many players that it is hard to see how they can compete at the top end of the ladder. Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits and Handre Pollard are just impossible to replace en mass, and that is without taking into account other stars such as Hanro Liebenberg and Hendre Stassen who have left for pastures new.
There is talent in the squad, especially in the halves, but it is going to take a big effort for the Bulls to run down the Sharks and Western province. Lood de Jager will be a huge player for them this season.
Golden Lions – 4.75
The Lions will be trying out a young, inexperienced, but hugely exciting squad in the Currie Cup this season. They are perhaps the biggest question mark of the provinces that could win the whole thing, with Ivan van Rooyen coaching the team while Swys de Bruin works with the Springboks.
The Lions look thin on paper without the likes of Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrinck and Harold Vorster, but look for the likes of Tyrone Green and Wandisile Simelane to make their mark on the Currie Cup this season. Cyle Brink was a fringe Springbok who will add needed power in the pack.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs – 6.00
The Cheetahs could be the surprise package in the tournament this year after finishing in last place at the end of the 2018 campaign. After surviving a playoff against the SWD Eagles, the Cheetahs will have a much stronger squad this time out.
The timing of the 2019 Currie Cup means that the squad won’t have to be split between the domestic competition and the Cheetah’s Pro14 obligations. That means the top players are available and ready to fire, with the likes of experienced scrum-half Tian Meyer looking to push his team into a semi-final berth.
GWK Griquas – 13.25
The Griquas are the first of the two smaller unions that could provide an upset result or two, but it would be a shock if they were able to make the playoffs.
Their biggest weapon will likely be the coaching ability of Brent Janse van Rensburg, a man who was in high demand after leaving the Pumas and who is smart enough to pull the strings on an upset win somewhere along the way. Kimberley is a tough place to visit and the Griquas look to have a pack capable of holding their own.
Ford Pumas – 15.00
The Pumas were unlucky to miss the playoffs last year, but the resurgence of the Cheetahs, along with the traditional strength of the other unions, makes a repeat effort to get into that Top 4 a long shot.
The Pumas goal here should be to pick up enough points to avoid the wooden spoon and a promotion-relegation playoff clash. Anything more than that will require huge seasons from the like of wing Rowellyn Isbell and centre Ryan Nell.