Not just anyone is capable of replacing a leader of the calibre of Schalk Burger, but in Anton van Zyl, Vodacom WP have a determined candidate to captain the team in this year’s Absa Currie Cup.
The Cape Town-born lock returned to the coast in 2009 after a four-year stint with the Lions. He has added experience and leadership to Province’s lock department, and played a key role in the side’s Absa Currie Cup semi-final run last year. With Burger and Andries Bekker on Springbok duty, it was these characteristics that head coach Allister Coetzee was looking for in his next captain. However, even Van Zyl admits his selection as skipper came as a surprise.
"When I came down from the Lions, I wanted to add value to the team. I knew I could make my experience count, but I didn’t see myself captaining the side," he says. "When Allister told me the news and I could eventually open my mouth again, we spoke about it. He explained to me what he wants and how I can help the team grow after our successful performances in last year’s Absa Currie Cup and Vodacom Super 14.
"I’m definitely excited. It’s an honour and a privilege to be captain and it’s a massive responsibility but one I’m looking forward to taking on."
After an impressive Vodacom Super 14 display from the Stormers, Vodacom WP have lost a host of top players like Gio Aplon, Francois Louw, Juan de Jongh and Ricky Januarie to Bok duty – adding to Burger and Bekker’s absence.
Van Zyl concedes that these players will be a big loss but believes Vodacom WP have the squad to win the Absa Currie Cup.
"Yes, we have lost a number of players but our squad has a blend of experience and youth and is strong enough to do well in the Absa Currie Cup," says Van Zyl.
"Being in the pack, it’s an ideal position for me to lead the side, but there are guys who can help me lead the team.
There’s Tiaan Liebenberg who will also be up front and vice-captain Dewaldt Duvenage, Frikkie Welsh and Willem de Waal in the backline. My lock partner Fondsie [Adriaan Fondse] and Duane Vermeulen have been performing very well and they can also play senior roles.
"With a few senior guys out, we have some talented young guys coming in. Nick Koster, Rynhardt Elstadt, Tim Whitehead and Lionel Cronjé are set to have a big season. We have great confidence in them and I’m sure they will make the most of their opportunities."
Although Vodacom WP’s 2009 Absa Currie Cup and this year’s Vodacom Super 14 campaigns were seen as success stories, they have not won any silverware since winning the Absa Currie Cup in 2001. Van Zyl believes they can break their nine-year trophyless run this season.
"As a team, we set high goals and we realise the task at hand. We want to make progress after two good campaigns and make sure we don’t lose momentum," says Van Zyl. "There’s always work to be done and we will take the Absa Currie Cup week by week. We have to make sure we keep improving after every match and get the results.
"We have a strong pack and we need to get quality first-phase ball. It’s vital that our forwards dominate the physical exchanges this season. If we can work strongly and command the set pieces, we can recycle well and set the platform for our backline, which has a lot of attacking flair. There’s a great vibe in the team and a lot of excitement.
There are always those butterflies but we are keen to play. The coaches and staff are confident too. We are also very tight with our management. We work very closely with them and they are excellent specialists."
Van Zyl adds that winning the Absa Currie Cup will also be a great reward for the Newlands faithful.
"The support has been fantastic and I want to thank them for backing our guys. The team gets great motivation from our fans. Wherever we play, we see the blue and white hoops in the stands and that motivates all of us," says Van Zyl. "We realise that success can only be determined by winning silverware and we want to bring the cup to Cape Town."
Report by Official WP Match Magazine