DHL Western Province returned to training on Monday ahead of the start of the 2013 Absa Currie Cup season, with some key men back in action at the HPC in Bellville.
With the DHL Stormers having ended seventh on the overall Vodacom Super Rugby log, there is plenty to play for in Cape Town as the Men in Blue & White set about defending the Currie Cup title they so deservedly won in 2012.
WP’s first match of the 2013 Currie Cup season takes place in over two weeks – against the Blue Bulls at DHL Newlands (August 10, 17h05) – and, thankfully, a few fit-again players have made their way back onto the training ground.
Star No.8 Duane Vermeulen is back on deck, following a Super Rugby-ending knee injury (suffered in May), whilst back five forward Michael Rhodes took a full part in training after suffering a syndesmosis (ankle) injury a few weeks before Vermeulen’s similarly untimely blow.
“Both Duane and Michael returned to team training (as of) today,” said DHL WP coach Allister Coetzee, “they should be ready to play soon.
“Their rehabilitation has gone well, but, with Duane, you’re not sure if he’ll go straight back into the Springbok mix or not. I’d naturally love to see him play a game or two for us, perhaps, but he could be required for national duty where he did so well and deservedly found himself last year.
“It depends on when the squad for The Castle Rugby Championship is announced. I would imagine that the 30-man national squad will be called together for a camp before the start of the Championship, so we are not assuming that our Boks will be available for the opening round of Currie Cup. We have two games before the Championship starts as we play the Cheetahs at DHL Newlands the night before the Argentina game (on August 18).”
Speaking about the other injuries within the WP squad, Coetzee – who also announced Deon Fourie as his 2013 Currie Cup captain – said: “Tiaan Liebenberg (back) is not out on the field as yet, but should be ready to go in about two/three weeks’ time.
“Schalk Burger is due to see a specialist this coming Wednesday and we should then know about him. Siya Kolisi (ankle) is doing rehab with the physio in a controlled environment, so hopefully he (Siya) should be back on the field next week.
“Frans Malherbe (ankle/syndesmosis tear) is in Stellenbosch at the Sports Academy (SAS), but I don’t expect him back soon. He could possibly be ready for the last couple of rounds in the Currie Cup, so that’s quite a while.”
Meanwhile, Coetzee revealed that Springbok back Jaco Taute – who has signed a full-time contract with WP Rugby – would probably not be back in action this year as he battles his way back from a serious knee injury which he suffered back in April this year.
“Jaco is doing his rehab at SAS. I really doubt he will play this year,” said the WP boss.
“I’ve learnt over the years from big leg injuries with Conrad Jantjies and Heinrich Steyl. It takes a while mentally, to get over a big, traumatic injury like that and we certainly don’t want to push him as he looks to get his confidence back. Besides, it could be the business-end of the Currie Cup when Jaco is due back, so there is no sense in rusing him back.”
Speaking about Taute and other potential signings in the Cape, Coetzee explained: “The player negotiations we are busy with presently are aimed at strengthening our Super Rugby squad for next season. Jaco Taute has agreed to terms and there are more negotiations going on to secure other players, but we will, as always, announce those only as and when they are 100% finalised.
“Like I always say, when someone puts pen to paper we will announce it,” added Coetzee, who also confirmed that Don Armand, Dewaldt Duvenage and Joe Pietersen had joined Andries Bekker and Bryan Habana in furthering their careers abroad after the 2013 Super Rugby season.
“At this stage the signings are not for the Currie Cup squad. I want the local talent to use the Currie Cup to prove their worth and possibly earn a contract for next year.”
Whilst players like Sidney Tobias, Alistair Vermaak, Bossie Clarke, Conrad Hoffmann, Bolla Conradie, Pieter Engelbrecht and Mark Hodgkiss (the latter from Maties) had joined training at HPC, either today or in recent weeks, Coetzee reiterated how important the Currie Cup was for Western Province as a development tool.
“The Currie Cup is always a massive development tool. Aside from those club players that have joined training, and some experienced players like Conrad Hoffmann, Bolla Conradie and Pieter Engelbrecht being in the mix at present, (WP Under-21 coach) John Dobson and I will, at times, basically share a squad.
“I feel sorry for Dobbo, as he looks to win his own competition, but for a lot of players this year’s Currie Cup and Under-21 domestic competition is a trial to be contracted for next year. When players come through the Currie Cup and put their hand up they can play themselves into contention for a contract.
“At the same time, in terms of the more experienced guys that I mentioned – Bolla, Conrad and Pieter – I’ll never refuse players and tell them the door is shut because you never know when you can fall back onto those (players).”
One player’s name on everyone’s lips in the Cape at present is quicksilver fullback Cheslin Kolbe, the 20-year-old having delivered from eye-catching performances at SA Under-20 and Springbok Sevens level.
Kolbe, however, sat out training on Monday and Coetzee explained: “Cheslin is fine, he suffered a bit a of whiplash playing for the DHL WP Under-21 team at the weekend.
“Him not training today is more precautionary than anything else, but I have pulled him out of rugby this week to make sure that he’s physically and mentally okay. He’s a young man who has played a lot of rugby this year – from the SA Under-20s, to the Sevens World Cup… to rejoining the WP Under-21s – all without much of a break.
“Youngsters want to play, but it’s our responsibility to ensure that he’s in the right frame of mind to give his best in the Currie Cup. He will join us, the Currie Cup squad, again next week.”
When asked about Kolbe’s potential route into the Currie Cup mix, the WP boss said: “Cheslin gives us options in our back three and he will feature there. It depends on whether we want the experience of Gio (Aplon) at fullback, which would allow us to blood Cheslin in as a wing. Those are calls, however, which we will make in due course.”
Coetzee will release an official Currie Cup training group later in the week.