Western Province’s Currie Cup season has reached a potential breaking point as the team have been stripped of three flyhalves ahead of their clash against log-leaders Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
With first-choice Willem de Waal already on the sidelines, Province’s stand-in options Peter Grant and Conrad Hoffmann have both succumbed to injuries in quick succession.
Hoffmann suffered a hamstring injury during last Friday’s captain’s run on the eve of the encounter against the Golden Lions and acting on medical advice, he will be rested for a week.
As a result he was withdrawn from the matchday group of 22 players at the 11th hour last week.
The talented Hoffmann played flyhalf during his junior days but has always been a scrumhalf since breaking into the senior ranks. He did, however, show he still has the attributes to crack the big time as a pivot during a recent outing for a WP Invitation side against the touring Saracens.
In the run-in to last week’s match, Grant was battling back and foot injuries and he was forced to sit out at some training sessions. However, he ended up playing against the Lions and now the battered flyhalf is doubtful to play against his former province on Saturday.
He did not participate in Monday afternoon’s training session.
Fullback Joe Pietersen, who has played flyhalf for the Stormers and Province in the past, looks set to start at No 10.
Province will also have to do without lock Adriaan Fondse who has been on the road to recovery after injury ruled him out of the latter part of the Super 14 season.
He suffered a knee injury at Newlands on Saturday and will miss the rest of the season.
On the evidence of their performances this season, Province will be the underdogs against the Sharks on Saturday.
Province looked very ordinary against a weak Lions’ side in their most recent outing when their one-dimensional attack was overcome by white-line fever.
Despite their overwhelming possession and territorial advantage, the side could not manage a bonus-point try.
Previously, against mediocre Boland, Province were held to an 8-7 halftime scoreline and earlier, they succumbed to away defeats at the hands of Griquas and the Blue Bulls.
After their trip to Durban this week Province face more formidable opponents in the Blue Bulls and the fast improving Free State Cheetahs (in Bloemfontein).
The absence of De Waal has robbed the team of a matchwinner and since the team have hardly mastered the all-important tactical kicking game, there must be genuine fears about Province reaching the semifinals at the business end of the competition.
And all of this against a background in which Province have attracted attention far and wide for its efforts to lure some of the country’s finest talents from rival provinces to Newlands in the future.
Jaques Fourie (Lions), Wynand Olivier and Bryan Habana (both Blue Bulls) have all had the spotlight firmly thrust on them in the process and further speculation did the rounds that the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, were among the recruitment targets.
There must be something seriously wrong with the talent scouting process in Province rugby considering their head coach Rassie Erasmus continues to cast his recruitment net elsewhere in the country, and indeed abroad, as happened in the case of New Zealander Chris Jack.
It must also be a source of concern to Province’s rugby hierarchy that the loads of talent that have in recent years produced several Cape-based winning teams in the club, university and school arenas, have not been allowed to graduate through to higher levels on home soil.
Instead, over a passage of time several “imports” have been roped in to staff Province and Stormers teams, neither of which have any championship wares to boot in recent years.
Names like Tony Brown, Luke Watson, Sireli Naqelevuki, Ricky Januarie, Conrad Jantjes, Peter Grant, Brian Mujati, Adriaan Fondse, AJ Venter, Chris Jack, Hilton Lobberts, Duane Vermeulen, Wylie Human, Anton van Zyl, Tiaan Liebenberg, Willem de Waal, Percy Montgomery, Frikkie Welsh and Gcobani Bobo, spring to mind.