Cape Town - Gert Smal probably never thought that one day he would coach a team against his beloved Western Province, but that is what will happen in tonight’s Currie Cup clash at Cape Town Stadium.
Smal is bringing his new team, the defending champion Bulls, to a town where he was one of the iron men of the WP side as a blindside flank in the 1980s and 1990s, and then later becoming the head coach of WP and the Stormers.
Also a former assistant coach for the Springboks and Ireland, Smal – who turned 60 last December – was the director of rugby at WP from 2014-2018 as well, so the Province blood runs deep in his veins.
But the former Bok No 7 wasn’t too sentimental yesterday after naming a strong side featuring captain Marcell Coetzee and Morné Steyn for tonight’s showdown (8pm kick-off).
“It’s quite funny – we had some one-on-ones over the last week-and-a-half, and some of the players that I contracted at Western Province are actually playing for the Bulls. And there are players here that I wanted to bring to WP at the time. So, it’s nice to be in a position where you can see the talent growing both ways, at WP and the Bulls,” Smal said.
“But it’s a big game for us, and WP also played well at the weekend. It’s important to know that we can put our game together on the park – certain things that we want to see come through.
“I know it’s not going to be easy, but if we work hard and concentrate on what we want to achieve, that will be possible (another win).”
Smal has chosen a heavyweight pack featuring Coetzee, who missed last Friday’s 33-19 bonus-point win over the Pumas at Mbombela Stadium, as well as Bismarck du Plessis, Sintu Manjezi and new signing Cyle Brink.
At the back, Steyn will call the shots and utilised some dynamic runners in Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe, along with youngsters such as Canan Moodie and Sibongile Novuka.
“He (Brink) brings a lot to the team, and as a youngster, he was one of the players we looked at when I was at WP. He is very talented and is a massive ball-carrier, good in defence and good in the line-outs, and that is what you want in a seven flanker,” Smal said.
“It’s quite a nice challenge for a coach at the moment – not just for me, but for Jake (White) as well – to get that balance right. It’s a nice group of players, as you can see from the team we put out against the Pumas and now the one against Western Province.
“So, there’s some good work being done behind the scenes, and I’m looking forward to see how this group of players will go. But it’s a great challenge. It’s a new kind of dynamics for me specifically, to see that everything is in place for both teams to perform.
“I’m really excited to see how it’s going to pan out, and it’s nice to know there is not going to be rain. Last week, we also wanted to speed up the game a little bit, but because of the wet weather, we couldn’t really do it.”
Bulls starting XV: James Verity-Amm, Canan Moodie, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Sibongile Novuka, Morné Steyn, Marco Jansen van Vuren; Muller Uys, Cyle Brink, Marcell Coetzee (capt), Janko Swanepoel, Sintu Manjezi, Robert Hunt, Bismarck du Plessis, Simphiwe Matanzima. Replacements: Schalk Erasmus, Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Sebastian Lombard, Reinhardt Ludwig, WJ Steenkamp, Keagan Johannes, FC du Plessis, Stedman Gans.