Vodacom Western Province coach Kobus van der Merwe has confirmed that selections are by no means set in stone for the semi-finals.
This adds a new dimension to the must-win game against Griquas this Saturday, as many of the WP players will be staking a final claim for inclusion in the knockout stage. With Robbie Diack out because of a stomach bug and Justin Melck playing off the bench, this marks the last chance for young loose forwards Pieter and Francois Louw to prove their worth.
Both boast admirable rugby pedigrees, with Pieter’s father Retief having represented Boland and Francois’ grandfather, Jan Pickard Western Province and the Springboks. Francois has adjusted to the pace of the Absa Currie Cup without much trouble since making the step up from the U21′s, while Pieter has been a perennial performer this season and is finally earning the recognition he deserves.
Pieter was given a few starts against the smaller unions earlier in the season, but only received a real opportunity when Justin Melck pulled up with a hamstring injury after the game in Bloemfontein against the Vodacom Cheetahs. He has since been one of the standout players in the Province pack, a point that was confirmed by the coach, Kobus van der Merwe.
“Pieter has a very high work rate, probably one of the highest in the team,” he told keo.co.za. “His contributions on the field have been invaluable.
“He’s got that little bit of mongrel, which you can’t coach and he’s also another option for us in the line-out.”
Pieter has played the majority of his career at eighth man, but with Robbie Diack having a dream debut season at No 8, he has been forced to pack on the near side of the scrum. Justin Melck has also kept him out of the side for the better part of the season, forming a strong partnership with captain Luke Watson at the breakdown.
But the tables have turned, as Melck now occupies the bench while Louw starts at No 7 against Griquas. Many believe that Melck is being eased in slowly after injury and will be brought back to the starting XV for the playoffs, but the WP coach confirmed that positions are still very much up for grabs.
“There’s still a lot to play for. We will focus on the game against Griquas first, and if we win we will sit down and discuss selections for the playoffs,” Van der Merwe said.
“We’ll decide on who we pick for the semi-finals according to who we are playing. It’s very much a case of horses for courses.”
After the loss to the Lions, Province have been training in the problem areas of defence and the kickoffs. The latter was particularly shoddy, but Van der Merwe is confident that they will get it right against the men from Kimberley. The team for Saturday includes two new locks in Ross Skeate and Selborne Boome.
“Andre Pretorius’ kickoffs were superb, and I think you could say that one of the main reasons we lost at Ellis Park was because of our sloppy play at the restart.
“But Ross and Selborne have been good in the air this week. Griquas may have looked at the Lions game and will be targeting us at the kickoffs, but we have been working hard and should be ready for the challenge.”
By Jon Cardinelli