Despite needing a win to book a place in the semis, Vodacom Western Province coach Kobus van der Merwe has named seven changes for the Griquas fixture.
Three of these changes are forced with Gio Aplon (hip), Zhahier Ryland (pectoral tear) and Robbie Diack (stomach bug) sitting out in favour of Joe Pietersen, Egon Seconds and Francois Louw respectively.
The second row rotates seeing Selborne Boome and Ross Skeate garnering vital game time ahead of the playoffs. With JD Moller fit to start, Schalk Ferreira is relegated to the bench.
The only other change is at centre, where Werner Greeff makes a long-awaited return after a seven-month injury layoff. Sarel Potgieter drops to the bench while Corne Uys reverts to the No 13 position.
Once again, the WP management have decided to utilise a five-forward, two-back split on the bench. Justin Melck is back amongst the replacements after struggling with his hamstring for a fortnight.
Van der Merwe stated at a media conference on Wednesday that the injuries will have little bearing on the team’s performance against the men from Kimberley.
“It shouldn’t be a problem, as we have some strong replacements, and Robbie and Gio should be back next week,” he said
“Having said that I do think it will be a tough game, as they have nothing to lose. For us it’s make or break, and if we lose we may miss out on a semi-final spot.”
The new lock-pairing was explained by the coach as something that needed to be implemented ahead of the knockout stage, with Skeate and Boome coming back from injury and requiring time on the park. New No 8 Francois Louw is described by Van der Merwe as a bright young talent who has been pushing for a start.
“Francois has a great pedigree, and we’ve really been impressed with his progress this season. He’s a great contester on the floor, and has an awesome ball-carrying ability.
“I think it’s now up to him to make the most of the opportunity he’s been given.”
The 20-year-old loose forward tried to explain the role he would play in his first start for Province. “I’m a different kind of player to Robbie [Diack],” Louw said. “I like to play to the ball and secure it on the ground. Obviously playing at the back of the scrum will now mean that I will need to cover and support a lot more.”
The inclusion of Werner Greeff is also seen as a huge plus for both coach and captain, as he may bring some stability to the shaky WP midfield defence. Jaco Pretorius scored all to easily in the Lions win last week due to the incomprehension of the home side’s running lines by the Province backs.
“Werner is a fearless defender,” said Luke Watson. “We had our problems with alignment last week, but we have put a lot of work into rectifying it.
“Werner reads the game exceptionally well and should bring a lot of experience into the side, which will vital in such an important game.”
While the Lions are relying heavily on a convincing victory by Free State in Pretoria (a win that will see the Lions qualify for the semis), a home loss at Newlands will also put them through to the next round.
WP: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Sireli Naqelevuki, 13 Corne Uys, 12 Werner Greeff, 11 Egon Seconds, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Bolla Conradie, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter Louw, 6 Luke Watson (c), 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Selborne Boome, 3 Brok Harris 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 JD Moller. Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Gerrie Britz, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Paul Delport, 22 Sarel Potgieter.
Griquas: 15 Tiger Mangweni, 14 Vuyani Dlomo, 13 Ockie Vermeulen, 12 Tertius Carse, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Conrad Barnard, 9 Tobie Botes, 8 Frans Viljoen, 7 Gareth Krause, 6 Heinrich Stride, 5 Lodie Britz, 4 Wayne van Heerden, 3 Cerneels Rautenbach, 2 Rich Verster, 1 Eugene van Staden. Replacements: 16 Dean Hopp, 17 JanÃ¨ du Toit, 18 Brendon Snyman, 19 Jacques Burger, 20 Bobby Joubert, 21 Marius Schoeman, 22 Jaco Bekker.
By Jon Cardinelli, at Newlands