Vodacom Western Province will continue to play their expansive game regardless of the Pretoria side’s forward-oriented strategy.
Two changes have been made to the run-on side that went down 16-6 to the Sharks in Durban. Joe Pietersen and Corne Uys return to the starting team, while Pieter Louw comes onto the bench as Province, in anticipation of a big tussle in the set-pieces, beef up on forward reserves.
Although Huia Edmonds was practicing with the WP team this week, he has not recovered sufficiently to reclaim a spot in the match 22, and so SA U19 hooker Deon Fourie may yet get his first WP cap.
The WP coach Kobus van der Merwe explained his selection of five forwards on the bench, a tactic which worked for him in the previous encounter at Loftus Versfeld. This is intended to provide more options rather than compensate for the Bulls strength in the tight.
“We have decided to go with an extra forward reserve, as it means that Gerrie [Britz] will no longer have to worry about covering at loose forward,” said Van der Merwe. “We also have the versatility in the backs to provide cover in every position in the backline.”
Captain Luke Watson commented on WP’s previous win against the Bulls up in Pretoria, a victory they obtained against all expectation. The second round sees a reverse in the pre-game expectation, with the home side having won seven out of their last nine games.
“We surprised a lot of people at that stage of the competition, as we were still the underdogs. We look at that win as one of the major turning points in our season,” said Watson.
“When the Bulls do click, they beat most teams. We expect them to be formidable opponents this Friday and to give us a good fight. They are also playing a few exciting youngsters, but we will be prepared.”
The Bulls are lacking a number of Springboks in their line-up due to national commitments, but Van der Merwe believes that this does not necessarily cripple a side. He pointed out that this year’s Absa Currie Cup has seen a lot of new talent coming through.
“There have been many reports in the media that it will be hard for some of the Boks to get back into the WP team. I think that the Currie Cup’s created a fantastic opportunity to prepare for the Super 14 next year as the competition for a place in our starting line-up is very healthy.”
Watson is aware that Friday’s game will see the Bulls seeking revenge, but views it as a typical encounter between the two big sides.
“The North versus South matches will always be grudge matches,” he said. “It’s always a big game.”
Van der Merwe said that he expected the Bulls to keep it tight, as the four points for a win in this match-up are going to be crucial to log standings.
“When the going gets tough, you stick to what you’re comfortable with,” said Van der Merwe. “The Bulls are more inclined to play the conservative game, while we don’t feel comfortable playing that type of game.
“We understand that there are certain structures that you have to use and we have employed them very well this season. That was evident in the way we defended against the Sharks last week. But we are a team who enjoys to move the ball around.
“This should be a game played between two completely opposite teams.”
In the only tactical change, Pietersen returns to the wing in what is described as a logical choice for the WP coach.
“If he did not get injured in the first round against the Cheetahs, he would still be playing there now.
“As far as the selection of Sireli [Naqelevuki] goes, it was a close call between him, Zhaier [Ryland] and Egon [Seconds].
“Sireli played well against the Pumas, but received no opportunities at all against the Sharks last week. We want to have a good look at all of our avaliable players before we head into the knock out stages.”
Vodacom WP: 15. Gio Aplon, 14. Sireli Naqelevuki, 13. Corne Uys, 12. De Wet Barry, 11. Joe Pietersen, 10. Naas Olivier, 9. Bolla Conradie, 8. Robbie Diack, 7. Justin Melck, 6. Luke Watson (c), 5. Gerrie Britz, 4. Francois van der Merwe, 3. Juan Harris, 2. Hanyani Shimange, 1. JD Moller, Reserves: 16. Deon Fourie, 17. Schalk Ferreira, 18. Andries Bekker, 19. Ross Skeate, 20. Pieter Louw, 21. Paul Delport, 22. Sarel Potgieter.
by Jon Cardinelli at Newlands