Cape Town – Deon Fourie is set to be rewarded for guiding Western Province to an unbeaten run in the league stages of the Currie Cup by retaining the captaincy for Saturday’s semi-final against the Lions at Newlands.
Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers, who returned to Currie Cup rugby off the bench in the hard-fought 17-13 victory over the Sharks in Durban at the weekend, should be back in the starting line-up for the semi-final, but his load is likely to be lightened on the captaincy front.
“Deon has been captain, so why must I change Deon now? Deon has played well and led the side with distinction, with the support of the senior players. I don’t even want to make issues about that. To me, there are no issues. At Western Province and the Stormers, we are fortunate to have the Springbok captain in our team and supporting, and that’s how I see it,” WP coach Allister Coetzee told the Cape Times on Sunday.
“To go in and say Jean should get the captaincy now and make an issue of that, to me, that is just taking unnecessary focus away from our achievements up until now, in building this team. I think Jean will always play a massive role in terms of the leadership of the team anyway.”
And Fourie is set to continue as an openside flank as well, with the impressive Scarra Ntubeni holding on to the hooker’s berth. Both players had a major impact in driving rain at Kings Park, with Fourie competing hard at the breakdowns and Ntubeni feeding the lineout with great accuracy in difficult conditions.
“That answers itself. I mean, the oke (Ntubeni) has hardly missed a lineout and the set-piece has gone so well, so why do we have to bother changing that when it’s working?” Coetzee said, adding that replacement flank Schalk Burger’s fitness has improved to such an extent that he could “easily play a full half flat-out for us” in the semi-final.
Province became the first team since the Blue Bulls in 2005 to go through the league stages unbeaten to secure top spot on the log and a home semi-final and possible home final.
They won eight of their 10 games, and drew two – against the Bulls and Lions.
Returning Springboks such as Duane Vermeulen and Eben Etzebeth were outstanding against the Sharks, with Vermeulen saving WP twice in the final few seconds with two brilliant breakdown contests to win the Man of the Match award.
Etzebeth was colossal at the front of the lineouts, winning his ball in commanding fashion and also adding his weight to the scrums and around the field by carrying the ball with brute force and dishing out big tackles.
And the relatively young front row of Steven Kitshoff, Ntubeni and Pat Cilliers came out on top in their battle with the Springbok combination of Tendai Mtawarira and Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis.
“It was a special effort from the guys (to finish unbeaten). We’ve put in all the hard work, but now we’ve got to focus on the semi-final coming up,” said Coetzee. “To see the Boks perform like that, and the other guys stepping up to that level and not dropping the standards was great. It just shows what a tight unit we are as a team.
“Duane was massive for us on defence – he’s also the defence captain. Duane also carried the ball strongly and helped a lot with his experience. Eben and Siya (Kolisi), and Jean, when he came on, all played their part.
“The most pleasing aspect for me was the set-pieces. It was amazing how the guys went in the scrums and lineouts. We really handled the pressure well and Kitsie, Scarra and Pat were solid in the scrums, and it was amazing to win two tightheads. We also did very well in the lineouts in those difficult conditions.”
Coetzee was pleased to report that Province didn’t sustain any injuries ahead of the semi-final. Wing Cheslin Kolbe and Vermeulen were treated on the field, but are not in doubt for the Lions clash.
The coach was confident that centre Juan de Jongh, who was a late withdrawal from the Sharks match due to a hamstring problem, will be able to play this weekend, along with Rynhardt Elstadt.
“In Cheslin’s case, it’s a knock to the knee, and Duane also has bumps and bruises, but nothing major. No one is in doubt for the semi-final. Juan de Jongh has done really well, and at a push, if it was a semi-final at the weekend, he could’ve played,” said Coetzee.
“He’s gone through the training very well, but I think he is still five percent short of doing everything flat-out. Hopefully with the treatment he’s had in the last couple of days off, he should be good to go this weekend.
“With Rynhardt, I’m really hoping the week off has given him enough rest to be 100 percent. He will also be put through a bit of a test tomorrow.”
*Tickets for Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final at Newlands (2.30pm kickoff) go on sale today via the Ticketpros website (www.ticketpros.co.za) and from selected Postnet and Western Cape Spar outlets, as well as from 9am tomorrow at the Newlands box office. Prices range from R90 each for standing tickets to R150, R200 and R250 each for seating tickets. Newlands 2013 season tickets are also valid for the semi-final.
There will be three matches at Newlands on Saturday – the curtain-raisers for the Currie Cup semi-final are the WP Emerging team against the Blue Bulls in the national amateur provincial final, followed by the WP Under-21 side taking on the Lions in their semi-final.