Western Province head coach John Dobson says ‘underrated’ prop Ali Vermaak could surprise with his performance in the Currie Cup semi-final against the Sharks on Saturday.
Province will be without one of their most influential players in Steven Kitshoff as the World Cup-winning Springbok has been forced to sit out this weekend’s clash at Newlands due to Covid-19 protocols.
It is a major blow for the Cape side as Kitshoff has been one of the best performers in the two domestic competitions.
He has not only been dominant in the scrum, but also underlined his value at the breakdown, as he is the only non-loose forward featuring among the top-five turnover titans after the Currie Cup round-robin stage. Kitshoff has also been tied top of the ball-carriers list, with 40 to his name, putting him level with Frans Steyn and Willem Alberts.
However, speaking during an online media conference on Thursday, Dobson said that he is ‘comforted’ by having someone with Vermaak’s experience to step into that gap.
Vermaak made his return to action during Super Rugby Unlocked last year, after being ruled out for two years with a career-threatening neck injury. However, the 31-year-old has been the bane of the Sharks scrum in the past, having helped Western Province win the Currie Cup title in Durban in 2017.
‘It has been statistically proven that Kitshoff has been absolutely outstanding this campaign. He has stood in very well for Siya as a skipper. He is definitely one of our most important players. That is a blow,’ Dobson admitted.
‘I am comforted by Ali Vermaak enormously. We have got a long relationship. I think he was unlucky not to have been in the Springbok camps a couple of years ago. To my mind, he is one of the most underrated props in South Africa.
‘To have Ali come in for Steve is brilliant even though losing him is a blow for us. I think it is a reflection on the squad that we can put out a team like this excluding two World Cup-winning forwards in Pieter-Steph du Toit and Steven Kitshoff and two really X-factor backs in Seabelo Senatla and Warrick Gelant.
‘It’s an opportunity. Steve will be back if we progress. I would have given Ali the opportunity if we played that final league game against the Sharks. He is really an outstanding prop.’
Vermaak and tighthead prop Frans Malherbe will face a tough job in dealing with the Sharks’ Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit, who has recovered from a rib injury to start.
‘We saw in Super Rugby before lockdown last year that we had a hell of a scrum battle up there against Thomas and Ox,’ Dobson said. ‘It’s possibly not going to be as comfortable for us as it has been in the last while. But, I promise, you will be surprised by Ali Vermaak. We might have to work a bit harder, but hopefully we get the return.
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