DHL Western Province Under-21 coach John Dobson has been forced into some big changes ahead of his team’s top-of-the-log clash against the Golden Lions Under-21s at Ellis Park on Saturday (kick-off 14h45).
The Province Under-21s suffered a shock defeat at the hands of the Blue Bulls Under-21s a fortnight ago – their first loss of the season – a match which also saw outstanding young lock JD Schickerling suffer a serious neck injury.
The loss to the Bulls saw Dobson’s charges slip into second place on the 2014 Absa Provincial Under-21 log – with the Lions regaining first position – but the WP juniors do have a game in hand over their opponents on Saturday.
Looking ahead to the weekend, with six changes to the WP U21 starting line-up and another four on the bench, Dobson told www.wprugby.com: “There are probably one or two changes more than we would have liked for arguably our most important league fixture of 2014.
“JD’s injury, which took its toll in many ways but also saw our team and the Western Province Rugby Football Union put its best foot forward and the call-ups to the senior team of Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Justin Geduld, have necessitated a few changes.
“Luckily, we have been working on our depth all season and can still put out a strong side against this Lions team that has beaten the Bulls twice this season and lost only to us.”
On some of his team changes, Dobson added: “We are treating (flanker) Jacques Vermeulen’s injury conservatively, so he is still out. We were also sad to lose hooker Mike Kennedy who has been outstanding this season. He should be out for just a week, thankfully.
“In some good news, we are pleased to welcome back (flanker) Justin Benn after a long injury and we think he will add a lot as we enter the sharp-end of our campaign.”
WP and the Lions have met once before in the 2014 Under-21 season, with Province winning 50-31 at DHL Newlands – a fixture which produced 12 tries.
“We know we will have to be at our best to win this one. We are on track for our home semifinal but don’t want to scrape into that on a wing and prayer – we would prefer to get onto the ‘high road’ by winning this game against the log leaders. Whoever wins this one should end up topping the log, so it’s an important for us.
“We were disappointed with the two late tries we leaked against them at DHL Newlands (in August) and have worked hard on some elements of our defence this week,” said Dobson.
“I felt we actually played some nice rugby in Pretoria against the Blue Bulls without reward (two weeks ago). We hope to get that reward this week against a very good Lions team.”
The DHL WP Under-21 team for Saturday (v Lions, away) is as follows:
15. EW Viljoen
14. Lihleli Xoli
13. Johnny Kotze
12. Kyle Lombard
11. JP Lewis
10. Robert du Preez
9. Jean Nel
8. Carel du Preez
7. Jurie van Vuuren
6. Eital Bredenkamp (captain)
5. Jan Uys
4. Sebastian Ferreira
3. Deacon Chowles
2. Michael Willemse
1. Sti Sithole
16. Chad Solomon
17. John Meyer
18. Tapiwa Tsomondo
19. Justin Benn
20. SP Ferreira
21. Janco Gunter
22. WJ Strydom
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)