Cape Town – It’s the heavyweight defending champions against an inconsistent Lions in Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final at Newlands, but Western Province coach Allister Coetzee says it would be “the biggest mistake ever” to take the Joburg team lightly.
Province are again waiting on the fitness of centre Juan de Jongh this week, but other current Springboks Jean de Villiers, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi strengthened the defending champions last week against the Sharks and will run out this Saturday as well. In contrast, the Lions will only have one-cap Bok lock Franco van der Merwe to bolster their side.
And without the Boks, Province scored their only bonus-point win over the Lions two weeks ago at Newlands, so fans can be forgiven if they are already thinking of a repeat of last year’s final with the Sharks. Coetzee, though, doesn’t want the Streeptruie to fall into a complacency trap.
“It guarantees nothing. Last year they were the form side in the Currie Cup and played at Ellis Park. We were really not given a chance and the opposite happened. So one has to understand that this Lions team know how to win,” Coetzee said after practice in Bellville yesterday.
“They actually played poorly and beat Griquas. They came from behind and normally in the second half they really up the intensity and put a lot of the teams under pressure. So I’m under no illusions – we’ve got to be careful in not underestimating the Lions. I’ve got huge respect for the Lions, huge respect for their attack and the way they can hold on to the ball. They can score points easily.
“We must make sure that we come up with the best performance of the season. To underestimate this Lions side would be the biggest mistake ever, thinking that we are getting so many Springboks back and they hardly get any.”
The league game two weeks ago saw WP win 36-23, but after leading 28-9 at one stage, Province allowed the Lions to pull it back to 28-23 with 15 minutes left. Coetzee attributed that to ill-discipline, and warned his players not to concede unnecessary penalties.
“They got back into it in the second half because we were ill-disciplined. They keep the ball well and attack well, and we conceded 15 penalties on defence alone. So they could kick the ball out to touch and maul again. We’ve only conceded three tries from mauls this season, and two of them were scored by the Lions,” he said.
“What has been pleasing to me from the Sharks game is how quickly the Springboks have settled in, how they came up with big performances and big moments of the game. When you needed someone to stand up, those Springboks really stood up for us, and they’ll have to do that again in the semi-final.”
De Jongh (hamstring) went through a fitness drill with team physiotherapist Wayne Hector on the side of the training field yesterday, but did not join his teammates afterwards and is unlikely to be ready, although Coetzee said that his chances of playing were “50/50”. If he is ruled out, then Damian de Allende will continue in midfield and De Villiers would replace Michael van der Spuy.
Vermeulen, De Kock Steenkamp and captain Deon Fourie also sat out of training, but Coetzee said that they were just resting and in no danger of missing the semi-final.
Flank Rynhardt Elstadt was back from his shoulder injury yesterday and took a full part in training. He could win a spot on the bench if the coach opts to have five replacement forwards and just two backs.
And judging from yesterday’s practice, Demetri Catrakilis appears to have done enough to hold on to the No 10 jersey ahead of Kurt Coleman. Catrakilis ran in the “probable” team for most of the session, with Coleman in the reserves.
Catrakilis slotted a crucial drop goal and goaled three penalties against the Sharks, and his tactical kicking was a big factor in the wet conditions. But with the weather prediction for Saturday showing clear skies in Cape Town, the consistent Coleman would be the better option as he is more direct on attack and draws in the defence by taking the ball up.
Catrakilis’s experience of last year’s Currie Cup triumph, though, is set to win him the nod. “Demetri has done really well. Those conditions were ideal for his out-of-hand kicking and he took the opportunity with the drop goal. The guy’s just getting into that zone,” Coetzee said.
“The one he missed was very close and he made good decisions. So we’re pleased with that, and it’s the headache I have as Kurt has also been outstanding throughout the Currie Cup.”
LOOK OUT FOR:
Eben Etzebeth (WP) v Franco vd Merwe (Lions)
Etzebeth has been a powerhouse presence for the Springboks, and he was the same for Province last week. The 21-year-old (he turns 22 only at the end of October) soared above everybody in the lineouts against the Sharks, reminding one of a young Mark Andrews. Etzebeth is a dominant force when he carries the ball too, but that is where Van der Merwe will challenge him. The Lions stalwart is a retreaded flank, so he has the agility to get around the field and is no slouch at lineout time either. The Lions like it wild and loose, so Etzebeth would do well to keep Van der Merwe busy around the fringes instead.