Currie Cup

WP coach dismisses favourites tag against depleted Bulls: 'We're also without 28 players'

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WP assistant coach Rito Hlungwani. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
WP assistant coach Rito Hlungwani. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
  • WP assistant coach Rito Hlungwani insists the Capetonians are not favourites to beat the Bulls in their Currie Cup opener in Pretoria on Saturday.
  • The Bulls are severely depleted for the clash as they've sent 28 players to Italy for the Rainbow Cup final.
  • The WP forwards guru has noted that they also have around 28 players unavailable for the clash at Loftus Versfeld.

Western Province assistant coach Rito Hlungwani disagrees with the notion that they will be hot favourites to beat a second-string Bulls outfit in their Currie Cup opener in Pretoria on Saturday.

The Bulls will be severely depleted for this weekend's opening round of the domestic showpiece as they've sent a 28-man squad to Italy to contest the Rainbow Cup North v South final against Benetton in Treviso.

One would expect the men from the Cape to win, but Hlungwani has noted that the WP team will also be an inexperienced one.

"We're all aware that the Bulls are in Italy but if you look at our squad, we're also sitting with 28 players who are not available, whether it being through Springboks call-ups, injuries and maybe a little bit of illness," Hlungwani told reporters in a virtual media briefing on Tuesday afternoon.

"It's always tough to play at Loftus and looking at their situation and our situation... the only difference is that we're not going to Italy."

Irrespective of what Bulls team they face, Hlungwani said they'll never go to Loftus Versfeld relaxed.

"It's going to be a good test for our depth. We want to go and compete and win. Whoever will be getting a chance will be [there] because they deserve it and it’s to further develop our younger players. It's not that we're looking to give easy opportunities, we want to go there and win."

Given all the absentees, the forwards guru admitted preparing for the set-pieces was a challenge.

"If you look at it lock wise... we're without Salmaan Moerat and JD Schickerling (injured), Marvin Orie has been called up to the Springboks... so from a lock point of view [it's a] big challenge but it's also a test for our coaching abilities and our depth and our players coming up.

"If you look at the hooking position, we've got Bongi (Mbonambi) and Scarra (Ntubeni) who are now at the Boks... Andre-Hugo (Venter), our third choice, he's currently with the Baby Boks... we've got Chad Solomon who's also injured.

"So, it has been a challenge but it's sort of part of the game. We have to adapt, and we've got good talent here in the Western Cape. We've been working really hard to make sure that come Saturday we've got good systems in place again and that the players are used to the systems that we have, especially the new boys."

When probed on what hookers they will take along for the trip to the Highveld - WP also tackle the Lions in Johannesburg next Wednesday - the coach elaborated: "JJ (Kotze) from Maties, he's played really well and there's Jason Alexander who's done well for UWC.

"We've also sort of been playing around with (prop) Sazi (Sandi) who's played hooker in high school. He's been training there, throwing a bit [into the lineouts], just to make sure we're covered. We've got two games back-to-back, so we've been working hard on those three guys. I'm sure these three guys will step up to the plate come Saturday and Wednesday."

Hlungwani added that the clash at Loftus would be a good test of their depth.

"We're taking this game seriously and I'm sure they are [as well]. We're giving good opportunities to some players who played Varsity Cup, guys that performed really well and some of our youngsters will get a good run this week.

"But I still feel like we're underdogs, we haven't won there in a while. So, it's still going to be a challenge for us. They have the Varsity Cup champions (Tuks), they might be able to tap into that, there's very good players. It will still be a strong challenge for us."

The WP team will be named on Friday morning, with Saturday's clash scheduled for 16:00.

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