Kobus: It will be war

Saturday’s battle between the Lions and Vodacom Western Province will be a desperate one, with both sides jousting for the all important playoff spot.

While WP’s place seems secure, the victory will be crucial to their aspirations of a home semi-final. The Lions on the other hand need a win to stay alive in the 2006 Absa Currie Cup.

“I don’t think that makes them hungrier than us,” WP coach Kobus van der Merwe told keo.co.za. “We know how important a home semi-final can be. It’s going to be a war on Saturday.”

Van der Merwe needs no reminder of what happened in the last meeting, the end result favouring the Cape Town side by a slender two-point margin (30-28).

While he agrees that WP need to sharpen up and maintain their concentration, he is also aware of a trend in the Lions game that sees them starting a match well but ending poorly.

“They usually start like a house on fire, but tend to slump in the last 20 minutes. I suppose that you can put it down to the inexperience of a youthful side.

“We need to place them on the backfoot in the first quarter by really taking the game to them. With six wins in a row, they have built up plenty of momentum so it is not going to be easy.”

A few changes are expected for this encounter at Ellis Park. WP flanker Justin Melck (hamstring) and Selborne Boome (knee) did not train with the team this week, and have been ruled out for one game. But the good news is that lock Ross Skeate and prop JD Moller will return to the bench in Johannesburg.

“We are not taking any chances with Justin’s hamstring, as if he plays this week he may tear it.

“We have decided to bring Ross back into the squad in an attempt to give him some game time ahead of the semi-finals. It won’t do him much good to get 15 minutes against Griquas and then go straight into a semi-final the following weekend.”

Francois van der Merwe has also made a full recovery from a shoulder niggle and will play off the bench this Saturday.

In the backline, Corne Uys is set to start despite picking up a shoulder injury courtesy of a Phillip Lemmer spear tackle in the Valke match at Newlands. Winger Sireli Naqelevuki alternated with Uys at centre for Tuesday’s training session, and is the official back up should Uys pull out at the last minute.

Zhahier Ryland is the favourite to replace Joe Pietersen, who hasn’t enjoyed the happiest of comebacks. But the WP coach confirmed that this switch has more to do with the nature of the opposition than anything else. “Zhahier plays well against the Lions, as seen in last year’s competition when he scored those three tries.”

Meanwhile, utility back Werner Greeff will make his return to rugby at club level this week, and should be available for selection in Province’s final league game against Griquas. Greeff suffered a serious injury in this year’s Vodacom Super 14 and hasn’t played since.

By Jon Cardinelli