Cape Town – For once, the normally guarded Western Province coach Allister Coetzee spoke his mind when he said Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Lions at Newlands is “one to lose” for the home team.
Coetzee named a star-studded line-up on Wednesday after practice, with Springbok captain Jean de Villiers back in the starting line-up after playing off the bench last week, and No 8 Duane Vermeulen coming through his “bumps and bruises” to take a full part in training and be ready to play.
And the Province bench is one of the most powerful in South Africa, with Bok centre Juan de Jongh being cleared to play and Schalk Burger continuing his comeback.
WP have more than enough ammunition to get through to a Newlands final next week, especially as Vermeulen was injured in the Stormers’ last two Super Rugby semi-finals that they lost at home.
“It’s a massive factor in having to think who to leave out. Why do you think the Sharks are going for Frans Steyn? If you look at the spine of the team, we have Scarra firing at hooker, we have Duane at eight and Demetri at 10, and Damian also firing at 12. Gio has been playing outstandingly throughout the competition at 15 too,” Coetzee said yesterday.
“If you look at those players, it’s two in-form youngsters and experience throughout. Coupled with that in playoff games is the leadership, we are really blessed to have Schalk, Deon, Duane and then Gio at the back, Jean de Villiers – experienced leadership in the team. So, this is one for us to lose. I’ve never been over-confident and that, but we’ve had a great week of preparation and want to go out there and be at our best this weekend.”
But De Jongh’s left hamstring was heavily strapped on Wedesday which sees Damian de Allende holding on to his No 12 jersey this week and De Villiers lining up at outside centre instead.
“Compared to previous seasons or Super Rugby, we are actually spoiled for choice for this semi-final. It is great to have Jean back to start again and as the vice-captain, and he is also looking forward to the clash,” Coetzee said.
“Juan has come through nicely and I am very pleased about that. He will play off the bench as Damian has played really well throughout the season and it was the first full team training today (this week) for Juan, and at least another captain’s (practice on Friday). We are giving him enough time to make sure that he knows everything in terms of our plays, without any pressure. I didn’t want to push him (due to the injury).
“It wasn’t easy (to decide to start with De Allende), and Rynhardt Elstadt and Nizaam Carr trained with us today and didn’t make it, it’s tough on those players.”
De Allende has been in top form, and has shown he is a lot more than just a big ball-carrier and strong defender. WP backline coach Robbie Fleck said yesterday that the former Milnerton High pupil plays a vital role in the overall gameplan.
“It’s crazy to think that he only played a handful of games last year and now he is performing as one of the best centres in the country,” Fleck said. “He is integral in terms of our gameplan. He is a big guy and has shown a bit of his class now with his distribution.
“So we are happy with the way he is controlling things. Last year when it came to this time in the Currie Cup, he played a huge role in that win in Durban, so we hope he can do the same now.”
Elton Jantjies’s expected return could pose problems for Province as the Bok pivot played for the Stormers this year and will know the WP gameplan well, but Coetzee is not concerned about that.
“We are not even looking at individuals in the Lions side. All we have done is focus on ourselves and making sure that we perform better than last weekend.”
Deon Fourie v Derick Minnie
It’s the two captains going head to head. They are both flanks who play towards the ball and carry strongly. Fourie is probably better at winning turnovers or penalties at the breakdowns, while the bigger Minnie is arguably more explosive with ball-in-hand. Minnie scored twice and Fourie once the last time these teams met, two weeks ago at Newlands, so that’s how evenly matched they are. Both are quiet guys, Fourie and Minnie having leadership roles is an interesting subplot in Saturday’s semi-final. The WP man led his team to Currie Cup glory last year, though, and was Man of the Match in the final as well. So there is no reason why he can’t win the battle of the captains again!
WESTERN PROVINCE TEAM
15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jean de Villiers, 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 Juan de Jongh.
*Western Province announced yesterday that tickets are still available for Saturday’s semi-final, ranging from R90 for standing to between R150 and R250 for seating.