Western Province coach John Dobson is bracing himself for a massive clash against the “metamorphosed” Blue Bulls at Newlands today (kick-off 5.15 pm).
As if the classic North-South derby, as a mere fixture, wasn’t big enough on its own - throw in the fact that WP are under pressure to secure a win - and the match becomes even bigger.
The pressure on Province started to increase when they suffered an upset in Kimberley on Wednesday after kicking their Currie Cup campaign off to a poor start with defeat to the Free State Cheetahs, and Griquas’ 44-34 bonus-point win over the Cape side obviously didn’t do much for their confidence either.
As early as their second match, Dobson pointed out there was no room for complacency after their loss in Bloemfontein, so it’s a good thing the former Ikey Tigers coach knows they have their work properly cut out for them this weekend.
“It has been a tough week for us, but the players are determined to rise to the occasion,” he said.
“There’s been a big metamorphosis at the Bulls, they’re very different to the Super Rugby team in terms of the way they play. That was probably predictable given that John Mitchell has arrived,” Dobson said during the team announcement.
Dobson and co experienced a good dose of high-tempo rugby against the Griquas, and he was expecting the same from their old foes - that and a solid breakdown-effort as well.
“Their general movement is much better, their intent is much better, their tempo is better and their breakdown work is better. So they’re playing a high-speed game,” he said.
“They’re asking teams to make 150, 200 tackles like the Sharks did on Wednesday.
"It’s a case of Déja vu. Six or seven years ago that same process started at the Lions.”
And although he was aware of the all the Bulls’ threats, Dobson was also confident in his team’s abilities.
“So they’re going to pose a threat more similar to the Lions, but we’ll be okay for that.
Captain and lock Chris van Zyl also highlighted the importance of “focusing on their processes”, and after an unpleasant display of unforced errors, ill-discipline and poor defence against the Northern Cape team, the skipper said that his team would be “unstoppable” if they can stay clear of the same mistakes.
"It’s obviously difficult after such a loss (to Griquas) to not dwell on the disappointment, but with the short turnaround we’re able to box that disappointment and learn from it,” Van Zyl said.
“The focus from my side will be to acknowledge these defensive problems and I’ve got no doubt that if we do that, we’ll be unstoppable.”
But aside from their processes, a few players should help the hosts in their quest to “unstoppable” at home today.
Province will welcome back hooker Scarra Ntubeni, who will make his 50th appearance for WP, to the starting line-up and, earlier this week, Dobson described the front-rower’s lineout-throwing as “excellent”, so that should certainly help them at the set-piece.
Young flyhalf Damian Willemse, WP’s first-choice pivot at the moment according to Dobson, and experienced scrumhalf Jano Vermaak will also make halfback something to watch, while speedster Seabelo Senatla will have another chance to keep the opposition on their feet with his thrilling attacking play.
Province will also welcome back Scottish international Huw Jones, and his midfield partnership with EW Viljoen, who had a good outing and was especially dangerous in the wide channels on Wednesday, should also be a treat.
Western Province Team
15 SP Marais, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Michael Kumbirai, 18 Eddie Zandberg, 19 Steph de Wit, 20 Justin Phillips, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Dan Kriel.