Cape Town – There have been many jokes about Brok Harris being a flyhalf, and most of them haven’t been complimentary.
But the big man admits that he likes to operate in the pivot position in the heat of battle. “They say I’m a flyhalf trapped in a prop’s body! But it comes from a long time ago, and I love to pass and play a bit at scrumhalf. It’s lekker,” Harris giggled on Wednesday.
Harris was speaking on the eve of his 100th match for Western Province, and in a typical rugby quirk, the tighthead prop will face the Cheetahs at Newlands on Saturday after having also made his debut against the Free State side in 2006.
The 28-year-old won the nod at No 3 ahead of Pat Cilliers, with WP coach Allister Coetzee making just one change to the starting line-up, Michael Rhodes replacing Gerbrandt Grobler at No 4 lock. Tiaan Liebenberg is back on the bench for Alistair Vermaak, and Maties star Ryan Nell comes in for Berton Klaasen as the outside-back cover.
Schalk Burger also made an appearance at practice in Bellville on Wednesday, and while he didn’t complete the session, backline coach Robbie Fleck – filling in for Coetzee, who is still recovering from a heavy cold – said that the Springbok flank could be back for the second round of the Currie Cup, which starts on September 14 against the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
“He’s been training pretty hard in the gym, and our fitness coach Steph du Toit has been putting him through his paces. It was good to see him out today – it was the longest session he’s had with us on the park. It’s looking positive. Hopefully we will be looking at getting him back in the mix in the second round, but we are not pushing him and he is not pushing us,” Fleck said.
“So, it is a case of horses-for-courses with Schalk. But it’s awesome to have him back. He helps with the seniors and with the management in terms of the prep, and giving the squad confidence that we need going forward. We are really looking forward to seeing him back.”
But first Province have to deal with the Cheetahs, and Harris’s big day. He said that last year’s Currie Cup triumph was one of the highlights of his career, and that it would be a “big moment” for him to lead out WP at Newlands on Saturday (7.15pm kickoff). He has also won 84 caps for the Stormers.
“Playing 100 games for WP is great! It actually caught me out, as I didn’t think I was close to that. The Currie Cup final, although I only played four minutes, was a big bonus in my career. Whenever you beat the Bulls at Newlands, it is always special, and last year’s semifinal against the Lions, where we scored that winning try from a driving maul ... There are a few highlights and good memories if I look back,” said Harris.
“To run out in front will be super on Saturday. Everybody dreams about playing provincial and Super Rugby, so to play your 100th game will be special.”
But Harris came under severe pressure in the scrums against the Bulls last week, and knows that he faces another big test against the Cheetahs pack. The new scrum laws have been a major talking point, and Harris is confident WP will put up a better effort against the Cheetahs.
“I just felt that we weren’t settled with the new rules, so we went to look at it again and worked hard to improve. We had buy-in from everyone during the last few Super Rugby games, and we had a good vibe going in the scrums. Maybe we thought a bit that it was going to be easy, so we will have to work hard to get back to where we were,” he said.
“I won’t say it’s difficult to scrum now. It’s just a new thing that we need to get used to. It will take one or two games to adapt.”
TEAMS FOR NEWLANDS
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Pat Howard, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Rohan Kitshoff, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Ryan Nell.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagné, 6 Boom Prinsloo (captain), 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 John-Roy Jenkinson, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen. Bench: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan.