Western Province and Free State lock horns at the Green Point Track on Sunday (kickoff 3.30pm) with the victor progressing to the semi-finals of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge (SRC).
WP are the defending champions and haven’t lost a game in the competition since its inception last year. Coached by John Dobson (pictured), Province, who campaign in the South Section, have won a total of 18 games (17 in a row) and drawn one, the stalemate recorded last month against neighbours Boland.
There have been a handful of close shaves along the way but Province have been able to dig deep and deny their rivals. Now for a repeat of last year’s quarter-final at the same venue which is the home of club side SK Walmers, who compete in Super League A, and will be in action in the curtain-raiser against national open club champions False Bay (12.30pm kickoff). Constantia-based Bay lifted the Gold Cup trophy last year.
Province ended the regular season with a 7-1-0 record and at the top of their section on 37 points from a possible 40, while Free State clocked in with six wins and two defeats in their last two outings to finish third in the Central Section headed by the unbeaten Pumas (39 points).
Province will lap up playing at the Track; the locals love their rugby, are a knowledgeable lot and they will want to make the men from Bloemfontein wish they were playing this game somewhere else.
And why not a bit of intimidation, Province have had their fair share of it on the road.
“We are pleased to be playing at home, at one stage it looked like we might be in East London, so we get some reward for our work during the season,” said Dobson.
“We like playing at the Track. It’s a great historical ground, a nice surface, good community support and we had a good experience there last year in the quarterfinals against the same team.
“We are very motivated to put together another polished performance to keep our title defence on track.”
As for Dobson’s squad, a couple of guys are with the Stormers on tour but Scarra Ntubeni is back at hooker.
Dobson is also banking on a good performance from his young centre Cornel Smit, who replaces the injured Dan du Plessis.
“Cornel is an exciting talent and we feel he has a big future, so we are pleased to give him an opportunity,” said Dobson.
“We have a strong pack which will be the right thing for the expected wet conditions.
“As for Free State, we know them well having played them in lots of knockout games and they never go away, never say die and keep coming at you.
“They were unlucky not to have finished higher in Central, they bumped into a Sharks team loaded with Super Rugby players and lost.
“It’s just a pity we play such a good team at this stage of the competition, but we’re up for it.”
Western Province: 15 Grant Hermanus, 14 Duncan Saal, 13 Cornel Smit, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Tristan Leyds, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Marno Redelinghuys, 6 Luke Stringer (captain), 5 Johan du Toit, 4 Ernst van Rhyn, 3 Michael Kumbirai, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Tiaan Swanepoel.