Despite plummeting temperatures in Cape Town, Matt Proudfoot has spent this week dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief. The Western Province forwards coach believes that Griquas’ status as the minnows of a streamlined Currie Cup competition belies a play-off contender.
“I think Griquas could go to the semifinals,” Proudfoot told the Weekend Argus in the build-up to the showdown in Kimberley this afternoon.
The Northern Cape side survived the chop at the end of last season when the domestic championship was trimmed from an eight-team format to six teams, and they are the only remaining Currie Cup outfit that doesn’t host a Super 15 team.
However, they have felled some tall timber in Kimberley in recent seasons. Last year, Griquas beat the Blue Bulls, Cheetahs and Sharks, they started their 2010 campaign by sinking the Sharks – who went on to win the title – and three seasons ago they beat Province and the Lions at GWK Park.
“They were also finalists in the Vodacom Cup this year and that team hasn’t changed much,” added Proudfoot. “Last year they were the best (Currie Cup) side other than the Super 15 franchises and they haven’t changed their squad much all season. Neither have the Cheetahs and Lions and, for me, those three sides have a lot of momentum. For the rest of us (WP, Sharks, Bulls) it’s about catching up to a level where we can feel comfortable.”
Province made an uneasy start to the season when they coughed up a 13-3 lead against the Sharks at Newlands last week to go down 25-23, and coach Allister Coetzee has made five personnel changes to the starting line-up for the trip to Kimberley.
The injury withdrawal of Deon Carstens (broken nose), Burton Francis (knee) and Joe Pietersen (wrist) led to the selection of prop Steven Kitshoff, Kings-bound pivot Demetri Catrakilis and wing Ederies Arendse respectively. Rampaging No 8 Duane Vermeulen makes his first start since going down with a serious knee injury in April, and scrumhalf Louis Schreuder gets the nod in place of Dewaldt Duvenage who has been rotated out of the matchday squad for a well-deserved rest.
Vermeulen’s return is a timeous boost that will add much-needed punch to the forward effort. However, it’s at the coalface of the scrum where Province must answer the most pressing questions, and Proudfoot says this is where Griquas are strongest.
“They’re a phenomenal pack,” he said. “That pack is massive. Rayno Barnes is a big hooker, Steph Roberts is a big loosehead prop, and (replacement prop) Janro van Niekerk on the bench has always been one of the most powerful scrummagers in the country.
“They take you on at the set phases. They really go for you at scrum-time, they don’t worry about giving away penalties.
“It’s a very big side and the statement that (Griquas coach) Pote (Human) has made that they don’t want to lose at home, shows a lot of intent. It’s going to be a tough day.
“I put a big challenge out for our front row to develop a dominant mindset this Currie Cup and I’m keen to see how (tighthead) Frans (Malherbe) responds.
“It’ll be a big challenge against Griquas this week to see whether we can impose ourselves physically on them.”
In an abbreviated competition, Province will find themselves in a hole if they don’t win this afternoon. A loss against Griquas, coupled with a win for the Cheetahs against the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein, could see Province start next week in last place.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Ederies Arendse, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jebb Sinclair, 6 Tyrone Holmes, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Don Armand, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie (captain), 1 Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: 16 Skara Ntubeni, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van Sluys, 19 Yaya Hartzenberg, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Damian De Allende
Griquas: 15 Francois Brummer, 14 Wilmaure Louw, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Wesley Wilkins, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Ligtoring Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (capt), 1 Steph Roberts. Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Janro van Niekerk, 18 Frikkie Spies, 19 Jaco Nepgen, 20 Marnus Hugo, 21 Walter Venter, 22 Richard Lawson .