CAPE TOWN - Earlier this week, Western Province coach John Dobson said that he would face an “amazing selection quandary” with Springbok backs Dillyn Leyds and Damian de Allende available for their match against Griquas on Saturday (5.15pm kickoff SS1 ).
And Dobson wasn’t exaggerating. In the last couple of weeks, the only major selection dilemma the Province coach has faced has been choosing his run-on flyhalf between Damian Willemse and Robert du Preez.
But even that wasn’t really a dilemma - in fact, it wasn’t one at all - as Dobson has made no secret of the union’s plan to back the “future of Western Province Rugby” - Willemse. And since Du Preez returned from injury, Dobson continued to give Willemse the starting nod, while Du Preez has racked up some game time off the bench.
But with Leyds, De Allende as well as tighthead prop Wilco Louw being three of seven players released from the Bok squad for the weekend’s round of Currie Cup action, there are a few real puzzles as WP have a few options in crucial positions for the match Dobson described as a “must-win” earlier this week after a shock defeat to the Pumas in Nelspruit last weekend.
WP, who are fourth on the Currie Cup log, have lost four of their eight encounters so far, while Griquas, who have played nine, have been successful in only two of their fixtures and are at the bottom of the standings.
But given what happened the last time these two teams met in Kimberley - when Griquas secured a 44-34 victory - and the fact that WP will have to win this one if they want to keep entertaining the prospect of a home semi-final, getting those selections right is even more important than what it would be in a lower-pressure situation.
So, with a lot weighing on this match as the race to the semi-finals shift into fifth gear, where will WP’s Boks fit in?
The versatile Leyds is a no-brainer at fullback as he has been in scintillating form, both on the wing and at No 15, this season. But Craig Barry’s stunning Currie Cup debut against the Free State Cheetahs two weeks ago - along with his SuperSport Rugby Challenge productions - have shown that he’s one who can become a a WP regular should he be able to sidestep the injury pest that has bugged him for many years.
Also, Barry getting significant game time on Saturday might not be a bad idea seeing that he is likely to feature at the back against the Blue Bulls and Golden Lions in the absence of Leyds, who was yesterday included in the Bok squad for the home Tests against Australia and New Zealand, and the injured SP Marais. Also, that continuity will be good for WP. But then again, if you want to follow the national-side-comes-first approach, Leyds also needs the game time (whether it’s on the wing or at fullback) as he has received precious little of that in the green and gold jersey. Perhaps a start for Barry and a solid, early second-half stint for Leyds?
The same can be said about De Allende, who rides in the same next-to-nothing Springbok game-time boat as Leyds. In midfield, Huw Jones has been superb at inside centre, and the skillful strike-runner - an outside centre who’s had to stand in at No 12 due to WP’s injuries - has been featuring alongside outside centre EW Viljoen.
And although De Allende’s availability opens up a number of possible midfield combinations (De Allende at No 12 and Viljoen at 13, De Allende at 12 and Jones at 13 or Jones at 12 and Viljoen at 13), the pure pace of Jones and his ability to spark attack will be needed this weekend. So WP continuing with their current midfield pairing and bringing De Allende on in the second 40 might be a decent selection.
Up front, Louw can add to WP’s scrummaging in a starting berth, while young prop Michael Kumbirai could add grit from the bench later in the encounter.