Cape Town – Springbok captain Jean de Villiers may lead Western Province after all in Saturday’s Currie Cup final against the Sharks as Deon Fourie is in doubt with a neck muscle injury.
The WP team were given a break from field training on Monday in Bellville as coach Allister Coetzee looks to keep his players fresh for the Newlands showpiece (5.30pm kickoff), but he is sweating on the fitness of his captain Fourie, who has been an integral part of Province’s unbeaten run of 11 matches this season.
Apart from Fourie’s value as a leader, it is his contribution as an openside flank that would be missed the most if he were to be ruled out. He is superb in contesting possession at the breakdowns, while his game anticipation has been made him a valuable ball-carrier who often kick-starts attacks or maintains the continuity in the play with his speed and offloading skills.
Lock De Kock Steenkamp is also struggling with “bumps and bruises”, but should be fine to play in the final. “Doc will be seeing two players who I am concerned about – Deon Fourie has got a neck muscle spasm. He got a knock to the muscle and there is a bit of bleeding there. I will give him as much time to recover as possible,” Coetzee said on Monday.
“And then De Kock as well, but De Kock for me is the lesser concern. It’s just basically bumps and bruises, and the workload on Kocky. Those are the only two players from this weekend’s game.”
If Fourie is ruled out, Coetzee hinted that Siya Kolisi will shift to No 6 and Rynhardt Elstadt will come back into the team at blindside flank. Elstadt recovered from a shoulder injury ahead of last week’s semi-final, but was left out of the match-22 along with No 8 Nizaam Carr.
Schalk Burger was the extra loose forward on the bench against the Lions, but the WP coach doesn’t think the Bok flank is quite ready to start a match yet in his comeback to rugby. “I would like to think that Schalk can start, but we’ll take a close look at our team selection and I just think the balance at this point in time is spot-on. He comes on in the last 20 minutes and so to say with Deon, brings the team home by making good decisions. His experience counts for a lot,” Coetzee said.
“I think Schalk needs more gametime off the bench before he can start. You want your starters to be guys who can cope for at least 60 minutes. If Deon is ruled out, Siya can move to six and Rynhardt can come in at seven, or you could start Schalk if he is ready to start.”
Fourie’s possible absence will necessitate another change to the bench, as he was also the back-up hooker. So additional prop Brok Harris will probably make way for WP Under-21 and SA Under-20 hooker Mike Willemse, with Frans Malherbe retaining his spot.
Bok centre Juan de Jongh looks like he will have to be content with a place on the bench once again. De Jongh recovered enough to be a substitute for the semi-final, but Coetzee appears to be happy with De Villiers’s partnership with Damian de Allende.
Such a selection would be harsh on De Jongh, though, as he is came back to WP from the Springbok squad and would rightly expect to start if he is 100% fit for the final. He was also the hero of last year’s triumph in Durban with a brilliant solo try. De Allende has enjoyed a good season overall, but hasn’t made much impact in his last two matches.
“Juan should be 100 percent, I expect him to be 100 percent fit. I’m really not sure who will be starting (at centre), but Damian and Jean performed damn well,” the coach said.
“Jean was outstanding at 13 and defensively made it really difficult for the Lions. They could never really get the ball wide – the one intercept was the case in point. It’s just a pity that we didn’t have enough support there. “We will have a nice little headache there, but we will select what is best for this team. Just the rhythm that has been built is really ... we know exactly where we are.”
While the Sharks have a number of injury concerns and lost to WP in Durban just over a week ago, Coetzee warned his team that they can’t have a repeat of the poor start from the semi-final, where the Lions took the game to them, particularly in the scrums.
“We’ve got to be even better than in the semi-final. We’ve got to start better and be in it for 80 minutes. We got off to a slow start and the Lions really put us under pressure. We worked our way back, but I don’t think you want to be in a situation in a final where you take so long to get back and get dominance back in a game,” he said.
*It was announced yesterday that Jonathan Kaplan will referee Saturday’s final.