CAPE TOWN - In the build-up to Western Province's Currie Cup-opener against the Free State Cheetahs on Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm), John Dobson said that they're not defending their title, but rather trying to win it.
Dobson explained that only seven or eight players in his current squad was part of the team that won the domestic competition in Durban last year. That's a big difference. But just like last season; Province will kick off their campaign against the Cheetahs after coming off a bye, while the Free State team played in round one both last year and this season. But unlike last year, the visitors didn't manage to get their season off to a winning start this time around, and instead suffered a 34-12 defeat to the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein last week.
The Newlands clash is a massively important one for WP - and of course also for the Cheetahs - given that there is only a single round of matches this season‚ with only three home games. So every match counts. And while WP don't have their entire Currie Cup-winning team available, Dobson trusts his side to make the most of their chances in the amended competition.
During the team announcement at Newlands on Thursday, the WP coach expressed his excitement about the 2017 World Rugby Under-20 Championship Player of the Tournament, Juarno Augustus. And while there's no shortage of players who can enliven whatever happens between the white lines in the Province team, Augustus is right up there.
The powerful back-rower hasn't had luck on his side over the last year or so as he has been plagued by a number of not-too-serious injuries. But it's the succession of those injuries that have interrupted the 20-year-old's contribution post his domination at the junior international spectacle.
"Hopefully this year, touch wood, sees the proper unveiling of Trokkie," Dobson said. "We see how well he did in the U20s. He is such a physical beast and good ball-carrier, we played him as much as we could in France. I hope he steps-up to senior level properly now."
"If you looked at Billy Vunipola’s GPS stats they would be appalling," Dobson said when was asked about Augustus' likeness to the England No 8. "Trokkie wouldn’t be like that, but he still has the same impact in a ball-carrying way as Billy. He is a big-carrier and hitter. We have been working on his lineout skills because when he was at U20 he wasn’t really a lineout forward, but he is improving there, which is really exciting for his future."
Augustus' selection at the back of the scrum sees Sikhumbuzo Notshe start at openside flank. While rangy, skillful play and fleetfootedness is what comes to mind when one thinks of the four-cap Bok, Dobson said that it's his rising physicality that he's keen to see in the current loose-forward combination.
"Notshe, in the national frame, is probably a No 8 but he was so good in the Currie Cup final at No 6 for us and he impressed with the way he worked in Super Rugby," Dobson said. "This probably isn’t the Notshe of before when he was more of a stepper. His work ethic and physicality are improving all the time so I am excited by the combination."
"I am impressed by Notshe’s attitude because he has come back from playing at No 8 against England and so enthusiastically happy to wear No 6. These guys are willing to do what is in the best interest of the team."
Your #DHLWP team that will start their Currie Cup title defence against Toyota Free State Cheetahs at #DHLNewlands on Saturday. Kick-off at 17h15, tickets from Computicket. #wpjoulekkerding #WeStandTogether #TheFaithful pic.twitter.com/uWIPbpP4K9
Free State Cheetahs team: 15 Malcolm Jaer‚ 14 Rabz Maxwane‚ 13 Dries Swanepoel‚ 12 Nico Lee‚ 11 William Small-Smith‚ 10 Louis Fouche‚ 9 Tian Meyer‚ 8 Aidon Davis‚ 7 Oupa Mohoje (captain)‚ 6 Jasper Wiese‚ 5 Dennis Visser‚ 4 Justin Basson‚ 3 Güther Janse van Vuuren‚ 2 Joseph Dweba‚ 1 Ox Nche. Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit‚ 17 Erich de Jager‚ 18 Luan de Bruin‚ 19 Stephan Malan‚ 20 Junior Pokomela‚ 21 Shaun Venter‚ 22 Ernst Stapelberg.