Cape Town - The objective of winning the Currie Cup still hangs in the balance and is some way off, but one of the primary objectives of the Western Province coaching staff during the domestic season is coming together nicely.
Before he signed off the Super Rugby campaign, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck spoke about the importance of building depth in key positions. He said that while there was a Currie Cup to win, the coming months would also be crucial to the preparation for next year’s Super Rugby. Apart from wanting to give young flyhalf Damian Willemse a chance to settle at senior level, Fleck was hoping that several other younger players would make use of their opportunities.
So far he is getting his wish, with Willemse playing confident rugby and getting used to both being the man entrusted with directing operations in general play from the pivot channel, and subsequent to the injury to fullback SP Marais he has also been entrusted with the goalkicking duties. On both counts he is progressing well.
But Willemse isn’t alone in using the Currie Cup to make a statement. Young flanks Jaco Coetzee and Cobus Wiese have both shown excellent form, with Coetzee getting used to his new role as an openside flank. The former KwaZulu/Natal pupil has played most of his rugby at No 8, but was tried at No 6 in the pre-season to Super Rugby and is now starting to look the part.
Coetzee scored two tries in the good win over the Cheetahs at Newlands last week and after initially being in and out of the side at the start of the competition, he is now starting to look like more of a fixture in the starting combination. The fact that a fine player such as Sikhumbuzo Notshe will be playing off the bench in the crucial away match against the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday is an indication of how well both Coetzee and Wiese are progressing.
Wiese of course can also double as a lock, and the non-appearance of Johan du Toit, Pieter-Steph’s brother who came to WP from the Sharks at the start of the year, in the Province match 23 is another indication of the depth that is being built up. Du Toit was good in the Supersport Challenge, which the Province team under the coaching of John Dobson won without losing a game along the way.
Another player who did well in the Supersport Challenge, fullback Craig Barry, got his Currie Cup debut opportunity only last week, and owes his appearance to the continued injury enforced absence of Marais. Barry made full use of his opportunity against the Cheetahs last week and has been given a big rap by his coaches.
Indeed, the forward depth would not have been something that Fleck was concerned about after the Super Rugby season. The Stormers have two excellent tightheads on their books in the form of Frans Malherbe and Wilco Louw, they have a good clutch of hookers headed by Bok reserve Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff will be back in the front-row next year after returning from his sojourn in France, there are two Springbok locks plus JD Schickerling and Chris van Zyl, and Siya Kolisi will return from his Springbok duties to join a group of loose-forwards that would have gained a lot from their Currie Cup experience.
It is at the back that WP have been concerned about their depth recently, and Barry will add back-up to a crucial area if he continues to come through. Dobson has been particularly pleased with the development of the depth among the outside backs, which has been bolstered by Sevens Boks such as Ruhan Nel, Seabelo Senatla and Werner Kok. The latter played well in his first Currie Cup start of the season last week but is displaced for the Nelspruit trip by Senatla, who is back from injury.
“I’m pleased to have Seabelo back. It’s tough on Werner, but that is the nice thing about this team – if you think that guys like Dan Kriel, Kobus van Dyk, Steph de Wit, Johan du Toit and a couple of props haven’t been able to make this trip (to Nelspruit), then it says something about our depth. The depth is great, particularly among the outside backs.”
WP reach a critical juncture in their quest to inject next year’s Stormers team with the confidence that comes with Currie Cup success in the Nelspruit match. They finish off their Currie Cup campaign with three tough away fixtures, so will need to overcome the potential banana skin posed by a Pumas side that recently turned the Mbombela Stadium into the site of a massacre when they thrashed the Blue Bulls.
The Sharks are way ahead on the log but WP can go second if they win. Conversely, if they lose, the way will be clear for the Golden Lions to go into second by beating the Blue Bulls on Saturday night.
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