Nic Koster will become the most senior player in a group of rookie Under-21s representing the youngest, most inexperienced Western Province team in years to run out and face the Sharks at Newlands on Friday.
It’s Currie Cup crisis in the Cape and Koster, just 19 and with only two caps to his name, has every chance of starting the game at No 8.
Dale Granger writes in Cape Argus that flyhalf Willem de Waal will be out for an indefinite period after undergoing surgery for a hip injury and at training on Monday Under-21 pivot Coenie van Wyk, who played for WP in last year’s Under-19 final, found himself competing against UCT No 10 Craig Rosslee for a starting role on Friday.
Koster may also start his first Currie Cup game at No 8, as a facial injury to hooker Deon Fourie could see Schalk Brits reverting to the front row and at halfback there is a good chance that another rookie, Dewald Duvenhage, could wear No 9.
These young Turks are set to be thrown into battle against a Sharks team loaded with Springboks with Deon Carstens, BJ Botha and Jannie du Plessis all fit to be selected in the front row.
Young Wicus Blaauw is already cutting his teeth in the WP front row and at centre, with Dylan des Fountain also out injured, it’s a toss up between two more rookies, Morgan Newman and PJ Vermeulen.
So how does Koster, who scored his first try in his second Currie Cup game against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, feel about squaring up to big-name players of the calibre of Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel?
“Excited and apprehensive”, was the response of the teenager after training.
“It’s a big challenge and a huge adventure stepping up to this level,” said the loose-forward who was captaining his school, Bishops, this time last year.
“Playing alongside guys like AJ Venter and Schalk Brits has been a huge experience and they have made it so much easier for me to adapt and fit into the side,” he added.
Koster was still glowing in the warmth of scoring his first Currie Cup try in a move off the back row which saw him combining with Duvenhage and holding a hot pass to dive over.
“The whole thing felt surreal and I can’t actually remember the act of scoring itself. But it was a move we have worked on in training and it was planned, not instinctive,’ he said.
Province need to win on Friday just to keep treading water, but if they are beaten the emphasis will almost certainly switch to preparing for next year’s Super 14.
Coach Allister Coetzee said he had done the maths and Province would need 25 points from their last seven games to make the play-offs this season.
That gives them enough leeway to lose two more games, but then they would have to bank the maximum five points in the remaining five to sneak into the semifinals.
The Sharks are set to field their most potent backline at Newlands, but coach John Plumtree is as surprised as the next man that the Bok trio of Ruan Pienaar, Odwa Ndungane and Frans Steyn have been returned to bolster that very backline.
The trio were axed from the Springbok squad ahead of Saturday’s Test against Argentina and Plumtree said it was perplexing that the three play-makers were not in that reduced group.
“It is really good to have them back but I’m really surprised that players of this calibre have been released. In particular, to have Frans and Ruan back playing provincial rugby is quite a surprise.”
Hoewever, Plumtree is counting his lucky stars and he confirmed that Pienaar will start at scrumhalf this weekend while Frederic Michalak – who seems to have fully recovered from his hip injury – will start at No 10.
Outside of him, Steyn will run at inside centre, where he played for the Boks during the World Cup, while Waylon Murray and Stefan Terblanche are set to retain their regular spots at outside centre and fullback respectively.
Ndungane will slot on to the wing with possibly either Chris Jordaan or Henno Mentz.
The backline will therefore have an extremely formidable look and with a couple of key Western Province backs suffering from injuries, it could well be a case of the Sharks making hay while the sun shines.Tweet