Western Province coach Allister Coetzee regards the forthcoming Currie Cup campaign as a “trial” for players pursuing a future at the Cape-based union.
Coetzee on Monday said the defending champions will use the competition to unearth new talent and said it’s an opportunity for up-and-coming players to stake a claim for higher honours.
"For a lot of players this year’s Currie Cup and Under-21 [domestic competition] is a trial to be contracted for next year. When players come through Currie Cup and put their hand up they can play a contract loose for themselves," said Coetzee.
Coetzee said he is evaluating several club players, including Conrad Hoffmann, who plays for Hamiltons and is training with the Western Province squad, and veteran scrumhalf Bolla Conradie, but will only announce his Currie Cup squad later in the week.
"Bolla is training hard. He’s like red wine, the older he gets the better he becomes and although we have options [at scrumhalf], I’ll never refuse players and tell them the door is shut because you never know when you can fall back on to those players."
Coetzee confirmed, however, that utility forward Deon Fourie will once again captain the Currie Cup side this season.
Meanwhile, forwards Duane Vermeulen and Michael Rhodes returned to training on Monday after injury-enforced layoffs and are both about three weeks off in terms of availability.
Coetzee said he’d be keen to make use of Vermeulen upon his return to fitness but conceded that the No.8 will probably be drafted straight back into the national side for the upcoming Rugby Championship.
"It is very likely that Duane might go straight into the Springbok squad as soon as he is ready to play, but I'd like to see him play one or two games for us," Coetzee said.
"The Bok squad will be announced in a fortnight's time and I expect Duane to get the nod."
Coetzee said World Cup-winning Springbok loose forward Schalk Burger will see a specialist on Wednesday and flank Siya Kolisi will return to training next week, while prop Frans Malherbe will only possibly be ready for the final rounds of the Currie Cup.
Hooker Tiaan Liebenberg is still out with injury and is expected to return to training in three weeks' time, while South African Under-20 and Sevens star Cheslin Kolbe will be rested this week after suffering whiplash while playing for the Vodacom Cup side.
"Cheslin has been playing non-stop for several months and he needs a break," Coetzee said.
"His injury is nothing serious but the rest will do him good at this stage."
With new signing Jaco Taute sidelined and Joe Pietersen heading abroad, Coetzee initially considered playing Kolbe at fullback but has had a change of heart and thinks Gio Aplon is better suited to fill the void.
"Out on the wing may be a better option to blood Cheslin in the Currie Cup," he said.
"Gio has played so well there when called on in the past."
Coetzee added that wing Gerhard van den Heever will be released after the Currie Cup season in order to join Irish club Munster.