Cape Town – Deon Fourie remains one of the most underrated rugby players in this country.
The Western Province captain almost prefers it that way as he just wants to go about his work without being noticed by anyone, as that is perhaps the magic ingredient that makes him such an effective operator.
Since his metamorphosis from a hooker into a dynamic openside flank, Fourie has opened up a whole new world for himself, and one that could take him all the way to the highest level.
Yes, the Springboks. Why not? He is a brilliant fetcher on the ground, creating turnovers almost at will and making vital tackles around the field.
His “get up and go” approach also gives Province a kick-start as he is a keen ball-carrier with serious speed for a loose forward.
And don’t forget about his captaincy. It may not be the easiest thing to do for someone as quiet as Fourie, but the man who hails from Limpopo and turned 27 last month lets his actions do the talking.
He showed just what he was capable of on attack last week against the Lions. Province struggled to get out of the blocks, hamstrung by a number of handling errors by the backs and their forwards lacking the right intensity to dominate physically. Enter Fourie – WP won a penalty close to their own 22-metre line, and the skipper displayed his Sevens skills, deciding to take a tap and making good ground.
It was a brave choice that jolted Province into action and ended in a magnificent try in the corner by Damian de Allende after the ball was taken through eight phases. Then Fourie himself barged over just before halftime to build up a healthy cushion and WP were never headed again.
But that was against the Lions. On Saturday, he faces the real deal – a virtually full-strength Sharks side in Durban, with both teams vying for the No 1 spot on the Currie Cup log ahead of next week’s semifinals.
The showdown provides an ideal opportunity for Fourie to catch Bok coach Heyneke Meyer’s eye against an all-Bok Sharks loose trio of Marcell Coetzee, Jean Deysel and Keegan Daniel.
Coetzee, his direct opponent at No 6, was quite fortunate to be included in the Rugby Championship squad this year after a rather average Super Rugby campaign, but the experience of 14 Test caps counts in his favour ahead of next month’s Bok tour to Europe.
So Fourie will have to play a blinder if he is to force his way into the Bok mix, but he has two of the best by his side to help him along – Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi will partner Fourie in the WP loose trio on Saturday.
In typically understated fashion, though, Fourie tried to downplay his personal duel with Coetzee after practice at Newlands yesterday. “We can’t focus on one guy. Especially in games like this when the Boks are back, you must play as a team and do the right things within your structure. We’ve gone outside of that in certain games and lost the plot. My main focus is to stick to what we must do as a team,” Fourie told the Cape Times.
“It’s unfortunate that Willem Alberts isn’t playing, hopefully his neck injury is not too serious. They still have Jean Deysel and Marcell Coetzee, who was outstanding when he came in during the Currie Cup. And everyone knows what skills Keegan Daniel has. It’s going to be a nice challenge this weekend, but we have to look at it as 15 guys overall.
“It’s great to have the Boks back, especially with Rynhardt being out again as we lacked that stopping power in the two weeks that he didn’t play. Eben, Siya and Duane will help a lot in that respect.”
As expected, WP coach Allister Coetzee yesterday opted to play Springbok captain Jean de Villiers off the bench, but picked all the other returning national players in the starting line-up. Eben Etzebeth replaces Michael Rhodes at No 4, Kolisi and Vermeulen come in for Elstadt and Nizaam Carr respectively, while Juan de Jongh takes over from Michael van der Spuy at outside centre.
“I just think Jean has had a lot of things (on his plate), not just physically as a player being taxed on his body, but also mentally,” Coetzee said. “From that perspective, he was the leader in the Rugby Championship and has had a lot on his plate. He’s really comfortable to come off the bench this weekend.”
De Jongh, though, sat out of training at Newlands yesterday with a “tight” hamstring, so De Villiers may start at Kings Park anyway. “Juan is just a bit tight with his thigh muscles, but he should be fine. He trained yesterday and there’s a captain’s (practice) still to come. But he’s really fine,” insisted Coetzee.
“I’m really positive that he will be ready, but anything can happen to Damian also, so Jean covers both positions.”
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Stephan Lewies, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Patrick Lambie, 22 Louis Ludik.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Frans Malherbe, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Jean de Villiers.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan