Cape Town – He was reluctant to accept the favourites tag, but Western Province coach Allister Coetzee says his team’s “mindset is right” for Saturday’s Currie Cup final against the Sharks at Newlands.
In a repeat of last year’s championship match, Deon Fourie’s unbeaten side will have to overcome a powerful Sharks outfit to retain the golden trophy in their first Newlands final since 2001.
And after Lions coach Johan Ackermann installed the defending champions as the favourites to retain their title, Coetzee said his players are eager to achieve glory again on their home ground.
“A guy mustn’t think too early about that (who the favourites are). Let me put it this way – our preparation for this game was very good, and the players are in a good space at the moment. All our players are available, and Nizaam Carr and Rynhardt Elstadt can’t make the squad, while Juan de Jongh played off the bench,” the WP coach said.
“The mindset is right, and there is a hunger to win this trophy back-to-back. So, to do that in front of a packed Newlands is something that you want to be part of, and the guys are looking forward to that. So, I think Johan is, in a way, I won’t say right, but he could see that there is a lot of determination in how we play and what we want to achieve.”
The scoreline may be deceiving as the Lions looked like they could spoil the Newlands party with a strong start in front of nearly 32 000 spectators. They pummelled WP in the scrums initially and ran with real gusto on attack, stretching the defence across the field and utilising the speed of Anthony Volmink and Chrysander Botha.
WP needed the exciting Cheslin Kolbe to spark them into life, and he was soon joined by Gio Aplon and Duane Vermeulen in breaking down the Lions defence. But it was hard work, and Province will have to be alert from the start if they want to beat the Sharks.
“We were under pressure in the first couple of scrums and they really put us under a lot of pressure in the set-piece. It was a good semi-final and the Lions were worthy semi-finalists. They asked questions on attack and we had to stop them with our best defence structures. It’s just the maturity shown by the team to handle that pressure – to get out of that bit of spiral and to take the points when they were on offer. That to me shows that Deon’s leadership again was immaculate, leading by example,” Coetzee said.
“We’ve got a lot of soldiers out there in the team who are working hard, and added to that, when there were opportunities on offer, we took those. Very happy with both flyhalves, who kicked well again, which is crucial in playoff matches.
“I think in total, a workmanlike performance off the bench. We spoke about how the Lions lift the intensity in the last 20 minutes and I think we did nullify that in a way with our impact off the bench. And that is what it’s about – it’s a 22-man effort, and I am really proud of the players for what they have achieved.”
But it was definitely not all defence and kicking penalties as Province once again showed great attacking intent, carrying the ball through multiple phases and trying to keep the ball alive for long periods. The continuity in their game was impressive at times, and then the individual brilliance of Gio Aplon, Kolbe and others was too much for the Lions to handle.
“It’s gone end-to-end, turnover and they attack again and we attack again. So from that point of view, it was a real challenge for us. It was a really good game for us to go into the final with,” Coetzee said. “With Gio, as a fullback, he just showed his class – he’ll punish you on the counter-attack if you don’t come up with a proper chase-line, and exploit that.
“But I think also Cheslin Kolbe and Gerhard van den Heever, it’s the way they work in tandem – cover rotation, who’s at the back and who carries – that sort of combination worked really well. So we are pleased with that and pleased with Gio’s performance, and he just enhances his chances of going on the end-of-year tour. Hopefully he thinks about that after the final and not now!”\