Springbok flank Schalk Burger has been ruled out of Western Province’s Currie Cup clash against the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday but Gio Aplon and Brok Harris should be fit to play.
Ashfak Mohamed – Cape Times
That was the verdict from WP forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot on Tuesday. Burger has been recovering from a rib injury sustained during the Boks’ 32-29 victory over the All Blacks in Hamilton in their final game of the Tri-Nations, and it was hoped that he would be fit to play this week.
He started training with WP late last week, and did a few running drills on his own during Monday’s session. But Proudfoot said on Tuesday Burger would not be risked ahead of the semi-finals.
“Schalk didn’t train today. He just took part in a lineout session, but was not involved in the contact session against our under-21 team,” he said. “We have decided to give Schalk another seven days. We don’t want to risk him ahead of the semi-final next week.
“We discussed it after practice today and will review the loose trio selection next week. The four other loose forwards, Francois Louw, Pieter Louw, Duane Vermeulen and Luke Watson have all performed well this season, so it will be a tough call to make. But we’ll leave that to next week.”
So how much of a blow is it really that Burger is not yet ready?
“As well as the other guys have done, just the aura that Schalk brings to the team is great and gives his team mates confidence,” said Proudfoot.
“I’m sure that that is how the guys at the Bulls feel when Bakkies comes back to play for them. So we will feel his absence but our policy this season has been to not play someone who is not 100 percent fit.”
Aplon (ankle) and Harris (cut to the eye) were considered doubtful for the Lions clash by coach Allister Coetzee on Monday, but Proudfoot said that the Bok Sevens star and tighthead prop Harris would be able to play.
“Gio came through practice today without any problems,” he said. “Brok didn’t train, as it is no use to let a guy with swelling around the eye take part in a contact session.
“We are waiting for the swelling to go down, but we are confident that Brok will be able to play on Saturday. Other players who sat out training on Monday, such as Joe Pietersen and Tonderai Chavhanga, all trained today.”
Aplon’s presence should help solve some of Province’s finishing problems they encountered in last week’s 50-7 win over Boland at Newlands. He is a devastating runner and has a superb step.
“We can certainly improve on converting our opportunities on attack,” said Proudfoot. “Where we got more than 10 chances against Boland, we won’t get so many against the Lions. We may get five or six and we will have to use most of them if we hope to beat them.”
Proudfoot is anticipating another bruising match against the Lions, so Harris’s return to the front row will be most welcome. He has progressed impressively since returning from a serious knee injury in the latter stages of the Super 14, and has been one of the cornerstones of WP’s turnaround in the tight five.
Harris will face the promising Lions loosehead JC Janse van Rensburg on Saturday. The Lions are missing a few experienced players such as Heinke van der Merwe (injured), Gerhard Mostert (injured) and Willie Wepener (overseas), but will still field a competitive pack.
“The Lions are very abrasive and Sharks coach John Plumtree said that they had hurt his team at the breakdown last week,” said Proudfoot. “The Lions’ physicality and combativeness for 80 minutes is really impressive.
“They also have some guys in great form. I think Doppies le Grange is playing some great rugby, while Cobus Grobbelaar and Derick Minnie are doing well in the loose trio.”
And despite being on top of the log and having secured a home semi-final, Province are not worrying about log positions ahead of their final league game of the Currie Cup. If they are beat the Lions with a bonus point, they will stay on top, whatever the Sharks do against Griquas earlier on Saturday.
But Proudfoot said WP were preparing themselves for a big game against the Lions.
“There has been no talk about various permutations or log positions,” he said. “It is not easy to win in Johannesburg. Tell me how many times have the All Blacks beaten the Boks at Ellis Park?
“It is just a difficult place to get a win. The Lions will test us and we must be ready for them. It is also good for us ahead of the semi-finals. We don’t want three easy games going into the playoffs.
“We want to be tested and become sharp, and that is what we will get on Saturday.”