Something building for WP
They have yet to secure the senior title they so desperately crave, as it would put to an end all the incessant carping about the lack of silverware in their trophy cabinet, but Western Province have this season confirmed their right to a place at the top table of South African rugby.
Even before Allister Coetzee’s senior team had scored in the last minute to clinch their place in Saturday’s Absa Currie Cup final, John Dobson’s under-21 side had shown them how it’s done by doing exactly the same thing – scoring the winning points at the death of a game where the scores fluctuated several times in the final quarter.
Dobson was the same coach who guided the WP side to a first ever Vodacom Cup triumph earlier in the season, thus making it known that there is plenty of depth being developed in the Cape.
The WP under-21 victims were the Sharks juniors, which may be a good omen for the WP seniors in that the under-21 team had been soundly beaten by the Sharks in previous games, just like Province and the Stormers have been at senior level.
And yet WP turned it around when it really mattered, which is exactly what Deon Fourie’s team will have to do on Saturday.
Of course there were reasons why WP under-21 struggled earlier in the season – they lost almost an entire team to senior duty at one stage, and for the home clash with the Sharks back in August, Dobson had just seven contracted players in his match-day squad.
Even this past week he had to give a player away at short notice, with Damian de Allende being called into the senior side as a reserve when Jean de Villiers was injured.
De Allende acquitted himself well when he came on in the Currie Cup semifinal against the Lions, as did all the other young players.
Remember that Eben Etzebeth, the kernel of the strong driving pack that Province have developed, is not yet 21, and Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, an entire front-row, are also still juniors.
So even if WP don’t go on to win the final at the weekend, the future looks to be in good hands, and as the legendary Victor Matfield put it in summing up the semifinals in his new role as SuperSport comments man, they do appear to be building towards something.
Both the senior side and the under-21 team showed great character in winning when all seemed lost, and the WP under-19 side also won through to their final, which is a tribute to the structures put in place during the Rassie Erasmus era as senior professional coach.
While WP are probably second to the Sharks now at senior level, and the season has shown that to be the case regardless of what happens in Saturday's final, the consistent WP and Stormers appearances in play-off games and finals has to have a positive pay-off sometime down the road.
Who knows, it may even be as soon as this coming Saturday.
The good news for WP building up to the Currie Cup final is that Coetzee has for once been able to report that there were no injuries picked up in the semifinal. That means he has 22 fit players to choose from for the final.
He will acknowledge that the Lions were the better team for much of the semifinal, and they will go to Durban as underdogs, but the four-match winning sequence the Sharks have enjoyed over their Cape rivals is not unlike that which the Lions enjoyed over WP before this past weekend.
Coetzee has a selection quandary to consider in the build-up to the final – Joe Pietersen was excellent when he came on at fullback and played a big role in the winning of the game.
In a possible wet-weather final, Pietersen’s kicking skills might also be necessary. That could mean Gio Aplon moving back to the wing, with Gerhard van den Heever dropping to the bench.