We want to use this competition to not just hang in but become dominant as a pack again
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee believes the new-look Currie Cup will provide the perfect environment to forge a tougher forward pack.
South Africa's premier domestic competition has been cut down to six teams this year and Coetzee wants to use the constant pressure to get his forwards back on track after a disappointing end to their Super Rugby campaign which saw them bullied up front too often.
He said: "It is strength versus strength which puts a helluva premium on the physicality. We are coming from a high intensity competition into the same kind of environment now.
"We want to improve as a pack, and we want to use this competition to not just hang in but become dominant as a pack again.
"We understand that there are a few things we need to work on and when you come up against quality packs it gives you a true reflection of where you are," he said.
Springbok call-ups and injuries mean that the Currie Cup will provide a stern test of Western Province's depth, and Coetzee is keen to see which fringe players are able to make the step up as he begins planning for next year's Super Rugby campaign.
"We have lost Eben Etzebeth, Andries Bekker and Siya Kolisi in the pack who were some of our most physical blokes in the team so it is a good challenge for those who will be stepping in.
"I think the Currie Cup gives you the opportunity to blood some young players and I have cast my net wider and I have gone to clubs.
"We are hoping to give opportunities to players who deserve to be there and keep working hard. Some of those players did well in the Vodacom Cup so hopefully they can take the next step into the Currie Cup," he said.
Apart from the forwards lost to the Bok camp Western Province will be without young loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff against the Sharks this weekend as he is recovering from a minor knee injury.
"Steven Kitshoff is battling with his knee. There is nothing majorly wrong with it but it is not as stable as it should be therefore being a prop we want to take all of the pressure off him so we have given him some rehab this week and hopefully by next week he will be fine again," said Coetzee.
The Western Province coach's biggest headache this week is in the second row where he has lost four locks in the blink of an eye, but there is better news in terms of his loose forwards stocks as Canadian international Jebb Sinclair has signed on to play in the Currie Cup and both Duane Vermeulen and Nick Koster are in the final stages of rehabilitation from their knee injuries.
Coetzee, who will name his captain on Wednesday, explained: "We have lost Eben Etzebeth, Andries Bekker and Hilton Lobberts who broke his arm in a club game and obviously Quinn Roux is off to Ireland so we have lost four locks.
"Jebb Sinclair will stay with us for the duration of the Currie Cup along with Burton Francis.
"Duane [Vermeulen] trained with us and compared to the sessions he did before the semifinals he is much stronger. The knee is not puffy and is really much better so he becomes a selection option next week.
"Nick Koster will be back soon I think next Monday he will be reassessed. He could possibly be one of the guys returning to training in a week or two's time," he added.
after the disappointment of their Super Rugby campaign Coetzee and his charges will get a chance to hit back against what should be a markedly different Sharks side this weekend and the Western Province coach is determined to start the campaign on a positive note whilst looking to unearth some long-term prospects.
"It is important to get off to a good start in the competition irrespective of who you play. Home games are particularly important and there has been a winning culture created here at Western Province and we would like to continue with that.
"We know how important this Currie Cup will be for us and we want to do really well, but we use it as our first phase of our [Super Rugby] campaign going forward.
"I think it is a very good thing for youngsters to understand the intensity that they will be faced with if they want to play at a higher level," he said.
By Michael de Vries