Province platform will be crucial

Vodacom Western Province will be playing a far more structured game when they meet the Valke on Saturday afternoon.

Seven changes have been made to the starting team that went down 13-28 in Bloemfontein. With Hanyani Shimange and De Wet Barry pulled from action because of Springbok commitments, Griquas hooker Tiaan Liebenberg is thrown into the starting line-up, and Sarel Potgieter comes into the backline at outside centre. This sees Corne Uys shifting into the second-receiver position.

Three of the changes are due to injuries, as lock Francois van der Merwe (shoulder) and Justin Melck (hamstring) miss out because of their respective ailments. Selborne Boome and Pieter Louw will replace them for this fixture at Newlands.

Andries Bekker starts ahead of Gerrie Britz at lock, while Paul Delport also rotates with Bolla Conradie at scrumhalf. JD Moller is out with a slight knee injury, and so Schalk Ferreira gets another opportunity at loosehead.

Speedsters Zhahier Ryland and Egon Seconds return to the match 22 amongst the replacements. Huia Edmonds also finds himself with the reserves, as he is not yet fit enough to play a full eighty minutes.

Luke Watson commented on the last game between these two sides up in Brakpan, and told the media to expect the same brand of tight rugby.

“We didn’t throw it around as much up there and stuck to our structures,” Watson told the media on Thursday. “We cut out the loose play and in doing so cut down the chances of the Valke disrupting our game.”

WP coach Kobus Van der Merwe added that this weekend’s game will be about getting those structures right once again. “When you’re playing for the bonus points, sometimes you don’t pay enough attention to your structures. We won’t take this game lightly, and a win is non-negotiable.”

The Province team lacked discipline against Free State in Bloemfontein last week, and the captain admitted that the loss was a combination of a lack of composure and plain bad luck.

“At one stage it was 13-10, and we were still in the game. But then we began to lose our structure, and as a result, grew a little desperate and tossed the ball around.

“It was one of those nights where we just couldn’t find our rhythm.

“This week’s training session has been extremely positive, and so we won’t go into this game lacking any confidence.”

With the playoffs just around the corner, Province need a win to build some momentum. Following this match, a huge game awaits in Ellis Park, where the Lions are looking to complete their comeback by securing a semi-final spot.

“It is important that we get back on track,” said Van der Merwe. “I think that all three of the remaining games are going to be big ones, irrespective of the opposition, as it ultimately decides who plays who in the semis.

“We can’t focus on the Lions game just yet. We have a home game on Saturday in which we need to pick up the points. After that we can worry about the next game.”

Addressing the numerous changes as a threat to consistency, both captain and coach were positive that the 22 selected are more than capable of beating the Valke.

“It was a setback to lose De Wet Barry and Hanyani Shimange, but that’s a decision that has been made by Saru and we have to live with it,” said Van der Merwe.

“We were actually very lucky to pull Tiaan [Liebenberg] into the set up so quickly, as we were lacking a bit of depth in that area.”

Watson was positive about the injection of fresh youngsters. “Take a guy like Francois Louw, he has been brilliant since being given the chance to play at senior level. It’s great exposure for players like him, and at the same it develops more depth in the side.”

Seconds and Ryland are two who will be itching to get onto the park this Saturday. The WP coach explained that they may finally be rewarded for their patience.

“We have a lot of guys who have been short of a run because of our five-forwards-two-backs policy on the bench. If everything is going well, they will all get game time this weekend.”

WP Rugby CEO Rob Wagner also used the press conference as an opportunity to pay homage to Neil De Kock, who is joining up with Saracens in the next week.

“We discussed it with Neil at the beginning of the season and decided that he would step down in the interest of Western Province rugby. Neil has always been a player who put the union and team first.

“I have always known Neil to be a professional, and a gentleman,” said Wagner. “Western Province will never stand in the way of players who feel that it is time to leave. Saracens is a good club, and we wish him all the best.”

Vodacom WP: 15. Gio Aplon, 14. Sireli Naqelevuki, 13. Sarel Potgieter, 12. Corne Uys, 11. Joe Pietersen, 10. Naas Olivier, 9. Paul Delport, 8. Robbie Diack, 7. Pieter Louw, 6. Luke Watson (c), 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Selborne Boome, 3. Juan Harris, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 1. Schalk Ferreira, Reserves: 16. Huia Edmonds, 17. Riaan Vermeulen, 18. Gerrie Britz, 19. Francois Louw, 20. Bolla Conradie, 21. Zhahier Ryland, 22. Egon Seconds.

by Jon Cardinelli, at Newlands