CAPE TOWN - Scrum time might be a bit of a challenge for Western Province now that promising tighthead Wilco Louw has been snatched up by the Springboks. But at least young prop Michael Kumbirai is around to keep WP’s set-piece going strong - or so believes coach John Dobson.
At a press conference at Province’s training base in Bellville on Monda, Dobson was full of praise for Louw, who joined the squad in Auckland for Saturday’s Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks in place of Coenie Oosthuizen, who broke his arm in the Springboks’ 23-23 draw against the Wallabies in Perth.
And if you’ve been following the 23-year-old this season, you’d know he’s a vital cog when it comes to Province packing down for the shoving battle.
Louw has been in good scrummaging shape this season - so much so that he’s kept Frans Malherbe - a guy who was up until last year described as a Springbok incumbent, out of the Cape side’s run-on team a few times.
And as Province prepare to travel to Nelspruit to take on the Pumas on Friday, Dobson says but for Louw’s Bok call-up, they will be able to field an near full-strength side in Mpumalanga.
“We have a clean bill of health, Seabelo (Senatla) is back from injury. The only disruption is Wilco flying to New Zealand. So we’re very close to full strength,” Dobson said.
“Our scrum is the best in the competition statistically, so it will be a challenge without our tighthead. Wilco has been outstanding, so it is a blow for us, but it’s obviously great for Wilco. But we’ve also been very thrilled with the progress of Michael Kumbirai. In a funny way it creates an opportunity for him.”
Kumbirai, a 20-year-old who’s made a number of Currie Cup appearances for WP this season, has impressed with his scrummaging ability, while the big, abrasive forward has also proved to be a strong ball-carrier.
And his stint off the bench in WP’s 57-14 thrashing of the Cheetahs at the weekend further boosted Dobson’s confidence in the young prospect.
“I know we didn’t play against the strongest side, but on Saturday he scrummed really well. In fact that’s why we took Wilco off at half time, to give Michael an extended run.”
And when asked what Louw could add to the Boks, Dobson said: “Scrumming-wise Wilco is up there, there’s no questions about that. His challenge in his game is his general movement, which was brilliant for the Stormers earlier this season,” Dobson explained.
“Then he had a bit of a knee injury, so I think he is just finding his movement again now. If he gets that right he’s going to be a top-quality international.”
“We’re used to tightheads maturing at 28 or 29, and in the case of Wilco you’re talking about a 23-year-old and in the case of Michael you’re talking about a 20-year-old. So these guys have got big futures as props.”