- Ali Vermaak is "one of the most underrated players in the country", says Western Province coach John Dobson.
- The 31-year-old will start Saturday's Currie Cup semi-final against the Sharks at Newlands.
- Vermaak starts with Springbok World Cup winner Steven Kitshoff unavailable.
Western Province are without Springbok prop Steven Kitshoff for their Currie Cup semi-final against the Sharks on Saturday, but coach John Dobson is "comforted" by the inclusion of Ali Vermaak in his starting XV.
Now 31-years-old, Vermaak has been a mainstay at the union for the best part of a decade, and Dobson has seen enough during that time to believe that he is "one of the most underrated players in South Africa".
A World Cup winner and a player who Dobson has described as one of the most important players at WP, Kitshoff's absence will certainly be felt.
Not only is the 'Spicy Plum', as he is affectionately known, a monster scrummager, but his work off the ball on defence and at the breakdown has been massive for the Capetonians throughout their 2020/21 Currie Cup campaign.
Kitshoff also brings significant leadership to the field and he has deputised as skipper this season when regular captain Siya Kolisi, back in the team this weekend, has been unavailable.
Kitshoff is understood to have been ruled out due to coronavirus safety protocols and he will certainly be back if WP progress to the tournament final, but on Saturday all eyes will be on Vermaak to fill that void.
"I'm really excited that he gets that opportunity," Dobson said of Vermaak.
"It's been statistically proven that Kitshy (Kitshoff) has been absolutely outstanding this campaign. He stood in for Siya and is definitely one of our most important players. It is a blow.
"But I'm comforted by Ali Vermaak enormously. We've got a long relationship and I think he was unlucky not a to be a Springbok a couple of years ago. To my mind, he is one of the most underrated props in South Africa.
"I've got 10 years of working with him and to have Ali come in for Steve is brilliant, even though it is a blow for us."
While the semi-finals being postponed by a week allowed WP the time to make a few more players available, including Kolisi, they are still without a number of important players.
"It's a reflection of the quality of 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 x-factor backs in Seabelo Senatla and Warrick Gelant," Dobson said.
"I would have given Ali an opportunity of we had played the league game against the Sharks because he is outstanding and needed an opportunity, but this is a semi-final so obviously losing him (Kitshoff) is a blow."
The Stormers last met the Sharks in Durban all the way back in March before Super Rugby was suspended. They lost that match 24-14, but since that two fixtures between the sides - one in Super Rugby Unlocked and one in the Currie Cup - were scrapped due to Covid-19.
Kick-off on Saturday is at 16:30.
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Angelo Davids, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak
Substitutes (from): 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Ernst van Rhyn, 21 Jaco Coetzee, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Ruhan Nel, 24 Sazi Sandi, 25 Tristan Leyds
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 JJ van der Mescht, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Fez Mbatha, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Manie Libbok