Province have plan up their sleeve
Western Province may have benefitted from the appalling conditions in which they were forced to play their last Currie Cup match against the Sharks in Durban in mid-September.
On that day the visitors were well beaten in a top-of-the-log fixture in which players were aquaplaning in the large puddles of water that made the Mr Price Kings Park surface resemble a paddy field.
So frustrated did WP become that by the end of the match they had completely lost their rag, with two red cards being issued for punching and a third player yellow carded for a dangerous tackle, reducing Province to 12 men at the final whistle.
After producing an excellent kicking game in the first half that kept the Sharks checked, WP fell away badly in the second and ultimately were guilty of not adapting to the conditions as well as their opponents had.
But the experience, says WP coach Allister Coetzee, might just have been good for his team with Saturday’s final in mind, particularly as the early forecasts suggest it will again be a wet-weather match.
“I saw a forecast that predicted 13 millimetres of rain so we have to be prepared for something similar,” said Coetzee.
He said his team would stop short of dipping the ball into buckets of water during training in Bellville this week, and he has also resisted the temptation to fly to Durban early to get used to training in the conditions that may be encountered on match day. But he says he has a plan.
“Our flights are booked and we will fly up on the Friday like we usually do, but we have got permission from the Sharks to have a proper training run on Kings Park so that we can get a proper feel of the conditions beforehand,” said Coetzee.
“With two curtain-raisers (the national under-19 and under-21 finals) scheduled, normally you might expect the host union to protect the field, but we felt it was important in this instance that we get a proper chance to get a feel of it.
"The field drains well and the surface is good, but it’s not nice playing in puddles of water, like we did last time. So hopefully it won’t be that bad again.
CHANGES IN APPROACH NEEDED
“But we did learn from the experience of our last game there, and we noted at the time that there are changes in our approach that we should make if we encounter the same situation and conditions again.
"That’s the thing about this game, you learn from experience, and we started working on a plan then. We are confident we have a plan that will make it harder for the Sharks this time.”
Coetzee did not elaborate on what that plan was, but he did mention after the September match that he felt that the Sharks had prepared for the game as if they were playing the old schoolboy playground game of – to use its English name – ‘Gaining Grit’.
“It’s that game where you have two teams that just kick at one another until one gains enough territorial ascendancy to force you back onto your own line and then win the game by kicking the ball over you,” said Coetzee.
In other words it’s the battle of the longest kickers, and one player the Sharks won’t have this time is Riaan Viljoen, who was a key player when selected unannounced into the Sharks' back three for the Super Rugby semifinal at Newlands, and then at flyhalf in both Currie Cup games against WP.
But the Sharks do still have top kickers, and a tactical genius in Patrick Lambie calling the shots.
So would that prompt a change in WP selection, with maybe Joe Pietersen returning to fullback so that his kicking skills could be added to the Province mix?
“I don’t know, we will make our selection tomorrow (Tuesday), and I can assure you it will be in the best interest of the game we want to play, not paying too much attention to the conditions at this stage,” said Coetzee.
The WP coach is in the rare position, for him, of having 22 fit players to choose from for the final, and while there may be some musical chairs between the starting team and bench when the selection is announced on Wednesday, the same 22 that did duty in the semifinal in Johannesburg will be on call for the final.
That may be bad news for WP under-21 coach John Dobson, who will have to take his team into their final against the Bulls without impressively built wing Damian de Allende, who made a few points in his favour late in the Currie Cup semifinal, and lock Wilhelm van der Sluys.
Of course players like Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe are also under-21, but they have been playing senior rugby all year.