Cape Town – When it comes to reasons for Capetonians to be depressed, the exclusion of Newlands from the Indian cricket tour and the behaviour of protesters in the city centre on Wednesday far outweigh the departure of the Currie Cup trophy on a flight destined for Durban last Sunday.
Indeed, seeing I argued this time last year that Western Province winning the domestic title might prove a setback to their Super Rugby hopes, let me be consistent and say that the opposite might be true now. WP have won more than 30 Currie Cup titles down the years, and it doesn’t mean what it used to.
What WP haven’t done is win the Super Rugby title in their other incarnation as the Stormers, and neither have the Sharks. It is the one everyone wants to win and needs to win now, and I bet that if you asked Jake White why he was moving to Durban and linking up with the Sharks, he would tell you that it is because they are a franchise capable of winning Super Rugby.
I doubt very much that White would mention the Currie Cup as part of his goal, and it was because he had won the Currie Cup and felt he had new worlds to conquer that Rassie Erasmus moved south from Bloemfontein in 2007.
Super Rugby is the Holy Grail, and if last week’s defeat to the Sharks means that the WP players will go into the summer recess less smug than they were this time last year, more aware that not everything they try works and more determined to work hard in the off-season, then last week’s result was a good thing.
A 16-match unbeaten run is an indication that the foundation is undeniably there so just small aspects of their game need to be fixed.
If the defeat to the Sharks, and the way it came about, confirmed to the WP brains trust the folly of having too many diminutive players in the back three, then the loss was a good thing.
I strongly suspect that Allister Coetzee knew already that what he got away with in the league stages of the Currie Cup he would not get away with in Super Rugby, which is why he is searching so hard for a big overseas wing.
Make no mistake, Gio Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe are both outstanding players, and I reckon that Kolbe will achieve more in his career than Aplon has, that is how good he is. But you play one or the other, you don’t play both, or you are going to be dominated in the aerial battle by every team that has sizeable wings and an accurate kick and chase.
And if last week’s result also divested at least some WP supporters of the fanciful, romantic notion that their team can win trophies playing the old-fashioned running game that was the hallmark of the golden era of the 1980s, then that is a good thing too. The Sharks and WP this year have traded places in terms of the type of game they try to play.
Last week the Sharks hardly played any rugby, they kicked almost every ball, and the statistics bear it out – the Sharks made significantly more tackles than WP did.
In Durban two weeks earlier the teams had to play ping-pong because of the wet weather, and WP prevailed. This time Province thought the dry conditions meant they could give into the perennial call for them to “swing it”, and how dumb they were made to look as a consequence.
The Sharks didn’t win because of their forwards, the early collisions were even. It was only once the Sharks’s tactical game started to work, and the WP players found them scrambling in no-man’s land for chip kicks with swarms of Sharks climbing all over them, that everything started to systematically destruct.
It was the Sharks’s tactics that took the WP big men out of the game and rendered Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen anonymous.
WP were out-thought, and on the day they were out-coached, and as this is not the first time it has happened in a home play-off, that has to be more of a concern to the WP administrators than they are admitting.
I would not sack Coetzee as coach, but I would make changes to the management team to better equip them to take the step up to the next level.
The systems Erasmus put in place in 2008 have worked in the sense that they have turned WP/Stormers into consistent contenders, but there are modifications that need to be made if they are to take the step to becoming consistent champions.
If an aeroplane develops problems, the company that owns the plane goes back to the manufacturer, who works on the modifications. Unfortunately, WP can’t do that because the administrators didn’t gel with Erasmus’s personality and as a consequence he parted ways with the union.
But while the manufacturer may not be available, there are other heavyweight rugby brains around who can do the job of director of rugby, and one of those is the mastermind of WP’s defeat last week, Brendan Venter.
As he lives in the region, the WP administration would be doing their team’s supporters a grave disservice if they didn’t at least sound out Venter about the possibility of adding his expertise as either a director of rugby or technical director, thus filling the void left by Erasmus’s departure.