CAPE TOWN – Western Province taking on the Blue Bulls in a good ol’ north-south derby is more often than not a match one expects to be a proper challenge.
The age-old rivalry and the guaranteed quality of each team’s line-up makes the fixture a highlight on the domestic calendar, and earlier this week, Province hooker Scarra Ntubeni identified Lood de Jager as not only a vital cog in the Bulls pack that will run out for their Currie Cup opener at Newlands on Saturday (5.15pm kickoff), but also a key figure for the visiting team overall.
He has delivered the throw-in to a number of lineouts De Jager has contested and knows all about the Bulls man’s work ethic, so naturally, Ntubeni expects the set-piece to be “tougher with Lood in there”.
“I think it’s going to be an all-round game but definitely more towards the set-piece,” Ntubeni said. “When we play the Bulls there are a lot of set-piece battles. Lood’s going to be playing as well, so he’s going to be leading upfront. They’ve got a very good backline as well.
“Lood will sit and work on a Sunday and work for three or four hours looking at our lineouts and then come on Monday and present to the team. That’s the type of guy he is, he really enjoys it and he puts in a lot of effort.
“From the days of Victor (Matfield) the Bulls have always focused on their lineout, so I think it’s definitely a lot tougher with him (De Jager) in there, but it’s part of the game and we’ll back ourselves.”
Given the single-round format of the competition, every game should be considered a must-win, which makes a good start key.
WP, though, know all too well that a superb start means nothing if it doesn’t follow through right to the end. So it’s no easy run the hosts are expecting come Saturday.
While WP would be forgiven for daydreaming about the mean pack, or back-row options in particular, they would have boasted if injury hadn’t robbed them of four loosies (Cobus Wiese, Kobus van Dyk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Johan du Toit), the engine room they have now doesn’t lack shine at all, even without that quartet.
Tighthead prop in particular is a rich area for WP with Wilco Louw, Michael Kumbirai, Carlu Sadie and Neethling Fouche, while their second row against the Bulls could also feature the promising Salmaan Moerat.
“It’s a short season, and that makes it different - we can’t have a bad start, we have to hit the road running,” Ntubeni said. “Some guys haven’t played for a while, since we were out early, so there can’t be an excuse, we have to start well. If that team (Bulls) clicks they’re very dangerous, so we just need to execute what we’ve worked on.
“It’s a very young side but we also have a bit of experience, so hopefully that should carry us through.”@WynonaLouw