Jaco Taute is set to make his first start at inside centre for Western Province in Saturday’s Currie Cup showdown with the Blue Bulls at Loftus, and it could become his permanent position going forward.

Michael van der Spuy, who has started in all three WP Currie Cup games at No 12, is struggling with a hamstring strain he picked up in the 27-14 win over the Lions at the weekend.

Van der Spuy sat out training in Bellville yesterday, and Province coach Allister Coetzee confirmed that he was “in doubt for selection” for the Bulls game. But even if Van der Spuy was 100% fit, Coetzee would’ve thought long and hard about picking Taute anyway as he made a major impact in the 21 minutes he was on the field against the Lions.

Taute appears to have lost that burst of speed he had as a fullback at the Lions in the past due to a serious knee injury last year, but a new role as an inside centre may be of great benefit to him, WP and the Stormers due to Jean de Villiers and Damian de Allende’s involvement with the Springboks.

Taute brought extra impetus to the WP attack against the Lions at the weekend, and kept up with the play to finish off the third try following Kurt Coleman’s line-break. He is also a strong defender, and has been working hard on his passing skills under the guidance of backline coach Robbie Fleck.

But Province will definitely still be without hooker Scarra Ntubeni, who was expected to be over his calf injury for the Loftus clash. Coetzee is hopeful that Ntubeni will be ready for next Friday’s home game against EP, and if not, then the Lions return clash at Ellis Park a week later.

At least Ntubeni’s replacement, Stephan Coetzee, has performed strongly in his absence. Coetzee trained with the team yesterday and is not affected by a bruised ankle sustained in the Lions game.

The WP coach said that Craig Joubert will referee a Province game for the second consecutive week, and that he was pleased with Joubert’s handling of the scrums in the Lions match.

But there were a number of questionable calls made against WP, particularly on tighthead Pat Cilliers’s side, as Lions No 1 Schalk van der Merwe appeared to be going in on the angle often. Joubert mainly penalised Cilliers, so the Springbok tighthead will look to get on the right side of the referee at Loftus.

“We were happy with the stability at scrum-time, and we had a few penalties on the defensive scrum, but generally we were happy. We will have a chat with Craig again,” Coetzee said. “Our scrum was much better on our ball.”

Coetzee again highlighted his unhappiness with WP’s ball retention against the Lions, stating that his team wasted a number of attacking opportunities. “We are very comfortable with our continuity, and the way we want to play – defensively and on attack. I was a bit disappointed with our ball-carries on attack. I think we coughed up 19 turnovers, which is not good enough in terms of our systems and standards,” he said.

“We had 12 against the Bulls, and that is a direct (conclusion) that we can make – we scored six tries in that game, and now three with the 19 turnovers against the Lions. We are tackling a lot, and that’s not what we want to do – but the one is the result of the other. We are tackling so much because we are not looking well enough after our ball.

“That’s a direct reason for not scoring more tries – how many times didn’t we get to their tryline and then cough up the ball? We are looking at our height, the reaction to the breakdown.

“Our philosophy is whoever takes it in must make sure that it comes back, and not rely on cleaners to help you as then you are taking numbers out to attack with. You can’t have five in there and only attack with 10 players.”

Meanwhile, Coetzee said WP are trying to sign an additional tighthead prop for next year’s Super Rugby campaign in the light of Frans Malherbe suffering yet another serious injury while playing for the Springboks against Argentina. Malherbe has been ruled out for four months with a fractured ankle, which comes after another ankle problem last year and then concussion kept him out for a few months earlier this year.

The other tightheads at WP, Pat Cilliers and Brok Harris, are believed to be moving overseas at the end of the Currie Cup. “There has been a lot of work put into looking to replace players who are leaving, and Gert (Smal, WP director of rugby) is really busy and on that already. It’s a discussion that we have had since Sunday morning, after Frans got injured,” Coetzee said.

“But Frans will be ready (for next season), and we have made some plans already for Super Rugby.

“It’s not always easy to get tighthead props – they are a scarcity in world rugby.” - Cape Times