Johannesburg - Western Province coach John Dobson could be facing the selection dilemma faced by having several Springboks back in the mix for Saturday’s game against Griquas at Newlands.
Current Bok coach and SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus differs from some of his predecessors in that he has appeared eager to have his fringe squad members get in as much game time as possible when not engaged with the national group, according to the supersport.com website.
That includes players who have been limited mostly to bench duty - Damian Willemse, Bongi Mbonambi, Wilco Louw and Sikhumbuzo Notshe are all available for this weekend, when there is a break in the Rugby Championship programme.
Why it could pose a challenge for Dobson is that his team has picked up impressive momentum and will be without the Boks again when they play their probable log deciding match against the Sharks at Newlands the following weekend.
Will absorbing the Boks back disrupt the flow? Last year that consideration prompted the then Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell to play Bok flyhalf Handre Pollard off the bench when he was available for an important game against the Sharks.
Someone like flyhalf Josh Stander is profiting from the opportunity he has been given at flyhalf for WP and Stormers coach Robbie Fleck would want him to get as much exposure to Currie Cup level rugby as possible. You never know if he may be needed to slot into the Stormers’ pivot position during next year’s Super Rugby.
Playing Willemse at flyhalf would deny Stander an extra starting opportunity to grow his experience, although it would probably make more sense from a national viewpoint at this stage to play Willemse at fullback. That is where Erasmus looks most likely to use him in the short term. If Willemse does play last line of defence, it will mean either a rest or a positional switch for Dillyn Leyds, who has been one of the stars for WP in the No 15 jersey.
There is a positive to WP having their Boks back this week in that the same players are likely to be available for the last Currie Cup league game in Pretoria, which will be played a week after the final Rugby Championship Test between the Boks and All Blacks at the same venue, and the knockout phase that follows that.
Playing those players now might make it easier to absorb them back into the mix in October and there is still a chance that the trip to Pretoria could be a high pressure game for WP. It all depends if they can capitalise on their home ground advantage against the Sharks and do what should be expected of them against Griquas by banking another five log points.
Complicating matters this week is the likelihood that this was the game that Dobson would have been pinpointing to give some of his fringe players a run. You never know who from outside the current playing group might be needed if the are injuries later in the competition and a knock-out game is not a good time to be getting your first Currie Cup playing opportunity of the season, or in several weeks.
“Obviously it is up to Dobbo, but there would potentially be a couple of places up for grabs this week,” WP assistant coach Gareth Wright agreed.
But the kicking coach dispelled any thought that the champions would be taking Griquas lightly.
“We had a good win last week in the context of the competition but it is still only the halfway point in the competition and in this season where you cannot afford to slip up we will not be easing off in any way this week,” he said.
“We went well with injuries against the Lions. There are a few niggles but nothing serious and a few guys who were injured are also on the mend. Our selection will be determined by what we expect from Griquas. The players are professional and we know that Griquas will be out to raise their game against us. Ultimately though we need to stick to our process and focus on our team and how we can get better.”
The teams for the Newlands clash will be named on Thursday.
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