CAPE TOWN - Western Province coach John Dobson has some exciting options in his backline, and those exciting options will cause a bit of a selection dilemma this week.
Or, Dobson’s selections for their Currie Cup semi-final against the Golden Lions at Newlands on Saturday will be “tricky”, as the Province mentor described it earlier this week. And it’s at flyhalf, in midfield and at fullback in particular that Dobson will face that selection quandary.
On Monday, Dobson confirmed that fullback SP Marais is available for the clash after his seven-week injury lay-off, but he also hinted that it might be too soon to throw the 28-year-old into a semi-final. And that makes a lot of sense.
In Super Rugby and Currie Cup, Marais has been the Stormers and WP’s first-choice No 15 this season, while Dillyn Leyds has also stepped in at the back for the Stormers and Province in the injury-enforced absence of Marais this year.
In recent weeks, however, Damian Willemse has started at fullback, while Robert du Preez’s tactical ability and game management has seen him shift from the bench to the No 10 spot for the “bigger” games. That may very well be the case again this weekend - seeing that this game is obviously a must-win - and Dobson could opt to rely on Du Preez’s services in the role of the general against a Lions side that will not, at all, be low on firepower this weekend.
But unlike the Sharks, who WP overcame 31-20 at the weekend, the Lions will not rely on a tactical masterclass or field-orientated play, so could we see a start at pivot for Willemse at 5pm on Saturday? Perhaps. But where to for Du Preez then? The son of Sharks coach Robert du Preez wouldn’t be an unattractive option at inside centre, but Willemse at No 10 and Du Preez at 12 is an untried formula and, besides, WP have a competent-enough midfield resume.
Dobson can, of course, stick with Du Preez at No 10 and Willemse at 15, while Leyds can have a go on the wing again.
I have to say that I think Willemse at flyhalf would be the best bet seeing that Dobson has repeatedly said that he is a flyhalf and the “future of the union” at that. But I also understand that WP need to do whatever they can to win this weekend - like Dobson said at last week’s team announcement, horses for courses. In the build-up to their must-win match (to get a home semi) against the Sharks, Dobson said that they’ve got themselves into a situation where they have to do whatever they can to get the win - and that’s where the "reliable" Du Preez came in at No 10. Things might not be very different this week.
In midfield, Sevens man Ruhan Nel did well at inside centre against the Sharks, and Dobson said the fact that he was straight and direct was pleasing. And while the WP coach praised Nel’s one good outing at No 12, he also said that EW Viljoen had been good all season. So although Dobson shifted international centre Huw Jones to No 13 last week to free him up a bit, Jones at inside centre and Viljoen at outside centre would be a solid centre pairing this week. Besides, they’ve worked as the midfield combination this season.
Taking game time into account, WP's fullback options are Willemse, Leyds and even Nel. But as earlier stated, should Du Preez start at No 10, the attacking flair of Willemse is needed somewhere in the team, and it would probably be best at 15 if not at 10. Leyds has added great touches both on the wing and at fullback, but should Willemse find himself in the No 15 jersey on Saturday, Leyds and Seabelo Senatla, or Leyds and Ruhan Nel, could do the job out wide.
So, all things considered, this would be my WP backline for the semi-final: 9 Jano Vermaak, 10 Robert du Preez, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 12 Huw Jones, 13 EW Viljoen, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 15 Damian Willemse