DHL Western Province have probably lost Juan de Jongh for their next two matches after the centre was called up by the Springboks on Sunday, but they should be significantly boosted for Friday’s crucial Absa Currie Cup clash with the Toyota Free State Cheetahs.
WP were set back before their match against the GWK Griquas at Newlands at the start of the weekend by the late withdrawal of big blindside flanker Rynhardt Elstadt.
Young Rayn Smid made a solid debut in the No 7 jersey, but WP would have missed Elstadt’s hard edge and experience on a night when they were also without Michael Rhodes, who was serving a one-match suspension.
Both players are expected to be back for the trip to Bloemfontein, as should Deon Fourie.
The regular captain missed the last two matches because of injury but last week coach Allister Coetzee said he would be returning for the Cheetahs match.
And at the end of the post-match press conference after the Griquas game, which Province won 19-13, Coetzee threw out a bit of a teaser to the journalists when he intimated there might be one other surprise return.
Could it be Schalk Burger? That’s just speculative at this stage, but Coetzee did say a few weeks back that Burger would be back soon.
So who knows, but don’t write off the possibility that Burger’s return to the game could be imminent.
The return of experienced players will be a timely boost for WP, who are involved in a dog-fight with the Sharks for the top position on the log and the right to host a possible final.
The bonus point the Sharks grabbed in their win over the Free State Cheetahs in Durban this past weekend has increased the pressure on the champions as they prepare for their trip to Bloemfontein this week.
Although the Cheetahs were comprehensively outplayed by the Sharks, you never know what you are going to get from the Cheetahs.
In their last home match they were outstanding against the Lions in the first half before nearly surrendering a big halftime lead in the second.
After this past Friday night you might suggest that you never quite know what to expect from Province either.
After scaling lofty heights in beating the Blue Bulls with 14 men at Loftus six days earlier, WP were by their own admission considerably off their game in beating Griquas 19-13.
Their failure to make use of the steady stream of possession that came their way should have been of particular concern to Province, who are behind the Sharks on the log now even though they are the only unbeaten side in the competition.
That is because the Durban side has accumulated four bonus points, whereas WP has yet to break their duck when it comes to that column on the log this year.
Against Griquas though they may have been better off playing less rugby in the wet conditions, something readily agreed to by Coetzee afterwards.
“In general it was a messy game and we’re happy to take the points,” said Coetzee.
“We could have done better if we didn’t try to do too much with ball in hand. We’re not happy with the way we played although I am pleased with a few things, most notably the way we contested the lineout ball.”
Coetzee might well have added that he was happy with the scrumming too were it not for the fact that there were several lineout penalties and free-kicks conceded, something that made little sense if you considered that Province always looked the dominant scrum.
Of course WP haven’t been helped by either the weather or the rather eccentric refereeing and TMO officiating this season.
The conditions for the Griquas game, with heavy rain falling at stages of the second half, were similar to the first-round game against the Cheetahs.
WP scraped home in that one, as they did on Friday night, and yet in both you could say that on the balance of play they were considerably better than their opponents and may well have banked four tries on a dry day.
The yellow carding of Damian de Allende probably cost them a four-try bonus against the Lions at Ellis Park too, as well as another two log points for a win.
There was another strange decision in the game against Griquas, although the yellow carding of Gerhard van den Heever for affecting a hand-off with a clenched fist was probably less a source of frustration to the WP camp as the way the on-field referee allowed Griquas to get away with murder at the breakdowns when they were defending.
But while there may have been mitigating factors, WP should have ended the weekend under no illusions that they have a lot of work to do as they go into the critical last three weeks of the league season as their error rate against Griquas, the conditions notwithstanding, was unacceptable.