PRETORIA – Western Province come to Loftus Versfeld with the comforting thought that their road to retaining the Currie Cup trophy is merely a formality.
Not that the outcome of today’s match against the Blue Bulls (5.15pm kickoff) will be of any consequence to them hosting a home semi-final at Newlands.
And perhaps the only source of motivation to winning for Western Province will be the thrill of boasting of an unbeaten season in winning the title again.
Just like the Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions did in 2016 and 2015, respectively, winning the Currie Cup is special, but doing so unbeaten is precious.
And WP will want to savour that moment of rarity come the end of the season, and this afternoon’s encounter will be part of many dress rehearsals towards that moment where they are the last team standing.
It will also be fitting for the Cape Town outfit to have all of their available stars, including Springboks Damian Willemse, Wilco Louw and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, out for show, especially in the backyard of their arch rivals.
“I think Province have a lot of talented players, but more than anything, they have a good team. It doesn’t matter who plays and where they play,” said Bulls coach Pote Human.
But the Bulls will care less about WP’s intentions and more on what they need to do to ensure that when they arrive in the penultimate stage of the competition, nothing is a foregone conclusion even for the teams who believe they have done enough to warrant a place in the final.
The men in blue may have struggled with consistency in the middle part of this shortened version of the Currie Cup, but they were able to get into a steady and threatening gallop prior to the break.
The Bulls’ ability to shake off the cobwebs from a three-week layoff, and hit the ground running will be crucial in their bid to beat the visitors, get into the semi-finals and not just be another participant, but pose a major threat to the favoured title contenders.
The hosts will also fancy their chances as they too have been boosted by the return of their Springboks in Trevor Nyakane, Marco van Staden, Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier.
The emotions and history of this being the north-south derby will further heighten the levels of expectations for an epic encounter, with the victors having the right to claiming one hand on the Currie Cup trophy.
“The home semi is at the back of our minds, but I don’t think that’s our priority now,” said Bulls captain Hanro Liebenberg.
“We just need to win and get good momentum going into the semi. Everyone knows what can happen in a semi-final, it is the bounce of the ball.”
Teams For Loftus Versfeld
Blue Bulls: Divan Rossouw, Jamba Ulengo, Johnny Kotze, Franco Naudé, Jade Stighling, Manie Libbok, Ivan van Zyl, Hanro Liebenberg (captain), Marco van Staden, Ruan Steenkamp, Eli Snyman, Hendre Stassen, Trevor Nyakane, Jaco Visagie, Matthys Basson.
Bench: Edgar Marutlulle, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Ruan Nortjé, Nic de Jager, Embrose Papier, Tinus de Beer, Dylan Sage.
Western Province: Dillyn Leyds, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Dan du Plessis, SP Marais, Damian Willemse, Herschel Jantjies, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Ernst van Rhyn, Kobus van Dyk, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl (captain), Wilco Louw, Scarra Ntubeni, Ali Vermaak.
Bench: Chad Solomon, Caylib Oosthuizen, Neethling Fouché, Salmaan Moerat, Jaco Coetzee, Paul de Wet, Josh Stander.