Armand’s sharp rise to final
Don Armand (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - At the outset of the 2012 season, a starting berth in the Currie Cup final was a massively unlikely prospect for Don Armand, Western Province’s blindside flank for the showpiece against the Sharks at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday.
His climb through the ranks over the past few months glowingly illustrates the way the Newlands-based franchise - despite their continued struggle to land a publicly-acceptable, genuinely “big ‘un” for the trophy cabinet - manage to stay strongly thereabouts at both Super Rugby and domestic level by filtering in fringe players at times of need and seeing many of them swim rather than sink.
It is at loose forward that both the Stormers and WP have been jinxed to an unprecedented extent this year as far as injuries are concerned.
Unavailable for selection for the Durban date with the heavily-fancied home side - who will start with an all-Springbok loose trio and another in Jean Deysel available for formidable oomph off the bench - are all of Schalk Burger
, Siya Kolisi, Nick Koster, Nizaam Carr, Rynhardt Elstadt and Tyrone Holmes.
Quite obviously also behind Duane Vermeulen
, the incumbent Bok No 8, in the Capetonian “loosie” pecking order, Zimbabwean-born Armand thus started 2012 perhaps as low as a seventh or eighth-choice on the list.
He was the sort of then-peripheral player the Stormers could field in stinking-hot late January, for instance (and they did) for a pre-season friendly against Boland at Wellington when several more senior troops were still deliberately held back from the early bump and grind for the murderous road ahead.
Armand, ironically a schoolboy product of KwaZulu-Natal-based Maritzburg College, ticked a few boxes even then ... but would still have been regarded as a very outside bet to be running out for the domestic showpiece wearing No 7 some nine months later.
It has required other peoples’ misfortune, to a great degree, for him to get to this juncture, but at the same time few could begrudge the 24-year-old his right to savour such a red-letter occasion.
The UCT man has been a yeoman contributor to the Province cause throughout the Currie Cup, whether stationed at No 4 lock or blindside flank, and all this despite going into the season without any prior first-class experience.
Coach Allister Coetzee
concurred, in an interview with Sport24 during the lead-up to the final, that there is a feel-good element to Armand’s presence on Saturday.
“Yes, it definitely says something about him. It’s about grabbing opportunities; sometimes these things come about once and you have to grab them ... Don’s done that.
“So many other guys could have been there - Schalk, Siya, Rynhardt, Nizaam - but (in their absence) he’s made me look twice at him, look hard at him. He’s deserved every selection in this team during the year, and Saturday’s game is like a dream come true.
“He has a fantastic work ethic; that’s been a big factor, and it shows in his involvement in play.”
Coetzee says he appreciates the 1.91m, 112kg Armand’s versatility, and will not be in any hurry for him to specialise in either of the slots he has shown he can serve with some distinction.
“No, I am happy with where he’s at, the flexibility. The trend these days is that your seven should also be interchangeable as a No 4 lock ... the Danie Rossouw situation in the past and the case with someone like Rynhardt here at Newlands.
“It’s brilliant to have those kinds of players in your (pool).”
One of Armand’s best features in the Currie Cup has been his assertive lineout play; if Province are perhaps tipped to take some heat at scrum-time, in Armand, Eben Etzebeth
, De Kock Steenkamp and Vermeulen they will be expected to counter that drawback by ensuring superiority in the other important set-piece.
“He’s learnt so much, and quickly,” says Coetzee. “Not just on his own ball but also defensively; he has a good overall sense of what’s going on in that phase of play.”
Still, the magnitude of Armand’s task in the final can hardly be under-estimated: his direct blindside rival will be Willem “Bone Collector” Alberts, a renowned, destructive international ball-carrier.
Yet like several fresh faces in the Province mix, he ought to take to the Kings Park turf with a nothing-to-lose mentality against the Sharks juggernaut ...
15. Louis Ludik 14. JP Pietersen
13. Paul Jordaan12. Tim Whitehead 11. Lwazi Mvovo
10. Patrick Lambie
9. Cobus Reinach 8. Keegan Daniel
(captain) 7. Willem Alberts
6. Marcell Coetzee
5. Anton Bresler 4. Steven Sykes 3. Jannie du Plessis 2. Craig Burden 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper 17. Wiehahn Herbst 18. Jandre Marais 19. Jean Deysel 20. Charl McLeod 21. Meyer Bosman
22. Odwa NdunganeWestern Province:
15. Gio Aplon, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Bryan Habana
, 10. Demetri Catrakilis, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen
, 7. Don Armand, 6. Deon Fourie (captain), 5. De Kock Steenkamp, 4. Eben Etzebeth
, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Scarra Ntubeni, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Deon Carstens
, 17. Brok Harris
, 18. Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19. Jebb Sinclair, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Marcel Brache, 22. Joe Pietersen*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing