Vodacom Western Province have named their strongest available side for Saturday’s away game at Ellis Park.
Three changes have been made to the starting line-up that thrashed the Valke 66-13 last week at Newlands. After winning his place in the run-on side, Selborne Boome is forced out due to injury, and so Gerrie Britz resumes his role in the second row. Bolla Conradie is back for Paul Delport, while an out-of-sorts Joe Pietersen is replaced by Zhahier Ryland on the wing.
The bench also sees a few significant changes, with prop JD Moller and locks Ross Skeate and Francois van der Merwe all returning to the squad.
Kobus van der Merwe explained the need for a five-two split on the bench, and how it will benefit his players later in the competition.
“It’s going to be a high-intensity affair, and I think that it’s more than just about preparing for the battle in the forwards,” he told the press on Wednesday. “Guys coming back from injury like Ross [Skeate] need game time before the semi-finals.
“We’re also playing Francois [van der Merwe] off the bench because he needs to be eased back in after his injury. Andries [Bekker] and Gerrie [Britz] played well together last week, and deserve to play against the Lions.”
WP escaped with a narrow win in the first encounter against the Lions, but can ill afford to give the Jo’burg side an early lead this time round.
“I think that they caught us a bit off guard with those tries,” said captain Luke Watson. “They are a very unpredictable side and we will need to keep a closer eye on them.
“It’s a do or die game for them, and so they are fielding their best team possible in order to secure the win.”
The coach added to this, more or less stating that the first team to score in this game will definitely hold the upper hand.
“The Lions are a team that starts incredibly well. We will need to match that intensity in the first 40 minutes.”
The return of Andre Pretorius to the starting line-up also has the WP contingent wary of the Lions attack.
“He’s very tactically sound, and his drop goal ability is something that we will need to shut down,” said Van der Merwe.
“We expect an expansive game, and with Andre playing the ball is bound to go wide,” added Watson. “It’s going to to take a huge defensive effort for us to win this one. First time tackles are going to be crucial in ensuring they don’t get across the advantage line.
“On attack, we need to stick to our structures and avoid being drawn into a Sevens-style or touch rugby game, where we throw the ball around carelessly.”
There has been a lot of talk around the psychology of winning these big games, and the WP coach admitted that even although his team are in a better position on the log, a home-semi-final is all-important.
“After Saturday’s game, we would like to be in a position where a win against Griquas will see us finishing first or second. But to do that, we will have to get through this weekend with the four points.”
Vodacom WP: 15. Gio Aplon, 14. Sireli Naqelevuki, 13. Sarel Potgieter, 12. Corne Uys, 11. Zhahier Ryland, 10. Naas Olivier, 9. Bolla Conradie, 8. Robbie Diack, 7. Pieter Louw, 6. Luke Watson (c), 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Gerrie Britz, 3. Juan Harris, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 1. Schalk Ferreira, Reserves: 16. Huia Edmonds, 17. JD Moller, 18. Francois van der Merwe, 19. Ross Skeate, 20. Francois Louw, 21. Paul Delport, 22. Joe Pietersen.
By Jon Cardinelli, at Bellville Rugby Club