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Rugby | Currie Cup

Coetzee sees another wake-up call

Those of us who listened to Allister Coetzee talk about wake-up calls at the press conference that followed his DHL Stormers team’s defeat to the Bulls in the opening Super Rugby match of the year back in February might have thought they were in a time-warp after Western Province’s opening ABSA Currie Cup match against the same opponents.

The result was different this time – thanks to Tony Jantjies not being able to land a difficult conversion from the touchline in the last minute of the game, WP at least managed to avoid defeat as their domestic season opener ended in a 24-all draw. However, in terms of impact, the result was like a defeat because Province had led most of the way and they had started as clear favourites by virtue of the greater continuity between their Super Rugby and Currie Cup squads.

While WP had only lost Eben Etzebeth (with the Springboks) from the pack that dominated the Vodacom Bulls in the last match in Super Rugby, the Blue Bulls, in their Currie Cup incarnation, were a very different team to the one that lost the Sanzar tournament semifinal a fortnight ago.

Province should have been expected to win at a canter, which they looked like doing for much of the first half. But then perhaps the same problem that beset them at Loftus in the Super Rugby opener all those months ago was present again – complacency. When the Stormers started Super Rugby they were perhaps reading too much into their Currie Cup final victory the previous October; this time perhaps the strong flourish at the end of Super Rugby contributed to the poor start in Currie Cup.

“We do read the papers too and you guys (the Cape media) seemed to buy into the notion that we would win easily,” grinned a disappointed Coetzee afterwards.

Indeed, he may be right about that, as after the 30-13 win over a much stronger Bulls team (on paper anyway) four weeks ago, few would have foreseen the Bulls leaving this past weekend with a share of the spoils. And maybe WP, like they did as the Stormers in February, were duped into thinking they could just pitch up against the Bulls and claim the points.

“This was a big wake-up call for us,” conceded Coetzee. “You can never think you can just turn up, even at Newlands, and just expect to win. Unfortunately I don’t think we were as mentally focussed on this game as we should have been.

“I think we dropped our guard slightly. And it’s disappointing. We fell a bit behind in our work ethic on the field. I don’t think that we worked as hard as we normally do on the field to get numbers out, to get double hits on defence.”

Of course the starting point was a scrum that came off decidedly second best against a Bulls unit that has otherwise struggled (another similarity with the Loftus game in February), and the only way you can put it is that WP were completely and utterly bossed in this department. In fact, given the Bulls’ forward dominance, Province did well to escape with the draw.

“Last year we stared out in the Currie Cup losing to the Sharks in the opening game, and at least this time we were lucky to get out of jail,” recalled Coetzee.

WP went on to win the competition last year, so it’s easy to understand what Coetzee is saying between the lines. It would read like this: “This is no train smash”.

It won’t be if WP heed their wake-up call quicker than the Stormers did in Super Rugby, and as skipper Deon Fourie reflected, the scrumming travails were probably caused by the team’s first exposure to the scrum engagement laws in a competitive match. If WP are still struggling in the scrum in three weeks time, by which time they would have played against the formidable Cheetahs and Griquas scrumming units, then maybe it will be time to panic. But right now it would be a good bet that they will get it right over the next fortnight.

It’s going to require a refocus though, and in that sense maybe Coetzee was right to talk about wake-up calls, as there were other aspects of the WP game that also just weren’t good enough against the Bulls.

“We played against ourselves in this game. We conceded 13 penalties to their eight. We were lucky as well that they missed so many kicks at goal. Our turn-over count was also big.”

Skipper Fourie agreed that his team made too many mistakes, and in that sense his words were reminiscent of Stormers captain Jean de Villiers speaking at Loftus in February. In Super Rugby the Stormers faced two tough away derbies which they lost, but in the Currie Cup they start with two home games.

You can’t afford to drop home games if you want to top the log, which is the goal that Fourie and his team have set themselves for the season so that they can secure a financially rewarding home final for Newlands. So the pressure will be on when the Cheetahs visit this Saturday.

WP might be forced to start that match without their new wing Cheslin Kolbe, who was injured (knee sprain) in a dangerous tackle by Bulls scrumhalf Rudy Paige and has been listed as doubtful. A decision on him will be made later in the week.


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