Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi is back to lead DHL Western Province in Saturday’s Carling Currie Cup semifinal against the Cell C Sharks but his return for the Newlands showdown will be off-set by the absence of scrumming kingpin Steven Kitshoff.
The WP coaches faced an agonising wait until late Wednesday to find out if the Bok World Cup-winning prop would be available to front the Cape team’s scrumming assault on the Sharks, but the news wasn’t good as Kitshoff was ruled out of the game through Covid-19 protocols. He will be replaced in the WP front row by Ali Vermaak, who makes his first start of the season.
Kitshoff captained the WP team for much of the Currie Cup regular season and indeed in the Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked competition that preceded it due to Kolisi being absent because of various injuries. So the timing of Kolisi’s return to fitness after his latest two-game absence is fortunate as it means there won’t be a captaincy void in this crucial play-off game.
However, given the excellent form that Jaco Coetzee was in when WP edged out the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last time out it must have been an agonising decision for coach John Dobson on where to accommodate the Bok captain. Eventually he went for the avenue of least disruption, with Kolisi starting at openside flank and Coetzee moving to the bench.
There are three changes to the WP pack in all, with Salmaan Moerat coming back as the starting lock after missing the last game in addition to the two changes that have been mentioned. The backline that did duty in the win over the Cheetahs remains unchanged. It is interesting to note that Blitzbok star Ruhan Nel, considered by many to be WP’s best centre, remains limited to a bench role.
On the subject of the bench though, it is interesting to note that WP do have a good mix of experience and young players with potential who could effect a change in momentum should it be needed later in what is expected to be a close match at Newlands.
Dobson said that his team is intent on making the most of every minute out on the DHL Newlands pitch on Saturday.
“We have earned the right to play this semifinal at Newlands and we want to deliver a fitting performance on Saturday,” he said.
“We have had time to prepare properly and we are fielding a number of settled combinations, so the challenge is to go out there and put together an 80-minute performance and secure our place in the final next week,” he said.
DHL WESTERN PROVINCE TEAM: Damian Willemse, Sergeal Petersen, Dan du Plessis, Rikus Pretorius, Angelo Davids, Tim Swiel, Herschel Jantjies, Juarno Augustus, Johan du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), JD Schickerling, Salmaan Moerat, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Ali Vermaak. Replacements (from): Scarra Ntubeni, Leon Lyons, Neethling Fouche, Chris van Zyl, Ernst van Rhyn, Jaco Coetzee, Paul de Wet, Ruhan Nel, Sazi Sandi, Tristan Leyds.