The recent performances of several ‘second-choice’ players gives Vodacom Western Province coach Kobus van der Merwe plenty of options for the impending playoff at Loftus Versfeld.
The 55-17 beating of Griquas on Saturday sent the Cape Town team into the semi-finals, where they will meet the Vodacom Blue Bulls. Nine tries were scored by the home team, a statistic that pleased the coach, as the men from Kimberley have been more than also-rans in this competition.
“Griquas are a force in South African rugby,” Van der Merwe confirmed. “They have been unfortunate with injuries, but take nothing away from Luke [Watson] and the guys. It was a make-or-break game for us, and they dealt with the pressure admirably.”
Van der Merwe was particularly happy with those players who came into the side after spending the majority of the season on the fringes. Their efforts will ensure much deliberation before the starting XV to play the Bulls is announced on Thursday.
“Francois [Louw] and Pieter [Louw] had strong games once again, and Selborne Boome was equally impressive. I think that he is a one of those players who always does the basics very well.
“I was also pleased with the difference Werner Greeff made in the midfield. The communication between him and Naas [Olivier] was great and his touch kicking was excellent.
“We took him off at half-time as the knee injury that he picked up in a club game was troubling him. But it was just a precaution, and he should be fine to play this Saturday.
“These performances are great for the team, and it places the coaching staff under pressure. It’s a great situation to be in when you have so many form players pushing for selection,” he said.
On the downside, Van der Merwe did express a few concerns about the Griquas game. Province struggled once again at the restarts, an area the Lions exploited to good effect in the previous fixture.
“The kickoffs were an improvement from the Lions game, but we still missed three, which is unacceptable.
“There was also a lack of urgency at the breakdown in the last 20 minutes of the game. The ball did become a bit slippery with the rain, but that’s no excuse, and in a semi-final you can’t afford to lose your focus like that.”
WP have beaten the Bulls twice this season, winning 15-10 at Loftus and 23-12 at Newlands. But the Bulls come into the playoffs on the back of a big win against the champs, and have grown stronger with every victory since regaining their Springboks.
With all due respect to Griquas, WP’s intensity levels will need to be raised significantly if they are going to take the spoils in Pretoria.
By Jon Cardinelli