JOHANNESBURG - Western Province have produced a number of fine Currie Cup performances this season, but their 21-20 defeat to the Sharks at the weekend (and a few other matches before that one) also revealed a couple of areas that I hope they’ve fixed during their bye week if they want to show off against the Free State Cheetahs at Newlands next weekend.
After all, I’m sure the men in the blue and white stripes don’t want to relive their round two Bloemfontein encounter. So, here’s what I think John Dosbon’s team have to get right before their date with the Cheetahs.
The chances of us witnessing Province-Cheetahs in Bloem Part Two is probably unlikely given the fact that a lot of the Free Staters’ first-rankers will be running out in the PRO14 this weekend. But you never know. Besides, after their 30-17 defeat to the Cheetahs in their season-opening match, WP made it clear that there would be no room for complacency or underestimating anyone this season (even more so after their shock defeat to Griquas in Kimberley). Anyway, one thing that WP urgently need to fix is their discipline.
Against the Sharks, WP conceded too many costly penalties, and they were also reduced to 14 men when flank Steph de Witt was sin-binned, while the Sharks were also awarded a penalty try after Province collapsed a rolling maul close to their try line. Needless to say, that put the hosts, who were already under pressure, in even hotter situations. The Sharks game was no isolated, error-ridden game by WP, although for different reasons, they’ve been handed a number of yellow cards in the past six weeks, while their error rate has also been a concern at times. And it needs to go. There can be none of that next week.
Those who wouldn’t regard themselves as fans of Damian Willemse must have seen his out-of-hand kicking display at the weekend as a golden opportunity to question the youngster’s rugby maturity. And maybe you can’t really blame them. Although the absence of the injured SP Marais was certainly felt on Saturday, Willemse has also carved off some good metres from tough field positions in his previous games. Robert du Preez is also back in the mix for WP again, and whether it’s him or Willemse who gets to run on at No10 next Saturday, they just need to get those kicks right.
Patience with ball in hand
This is basically included under the first point, but I think the fact that WP, who can be lethal on attack and counter attack, haven’t been able to convert a lot of their chances into points on a number of occasions deserves its own discussion. Now I don’t know if it was just desperation that caused WP to ruin a number of good opportunities with ball in hand against the Sharks at the weekend, but what I do know (and I’m sure they do too) is that those attacking mess-ups can’t be taken into their date with the Cheetahs, not at all. Two of the most blatant cases of WP’s impatience on attack until now were against the Sharks and Griquas - where they blew a couple of chances through knock-ons, misdirected passes or whatever else - and in both cases they were punished. So there needs to be more patience and focus next weekend.
When hooker Scarra Ntubeni returned from injury, Dobson praised the front-rower for his “exceptional” line-out work and the vibe he brings to the team. But now Ntubeni is on the casualty list yet again, and he could have brought some much-needed stability to the set-piece that has been kind of up and down for WP this Currie Cup season. At times their line-out has been exceptional, and at other times, well, it’s looked about as impressive as some of the refereeing calls made when WP hosted the Blue Bulls at Newlands in round five. Anyway, against the Sharks - one of the best defensive and set-phase teams in the competition - the Cape side lost a few line-outs, and I doubt anybody needs any reminding of what a solid line-out, or set-piece in general, can do for a team’s attack.
Defence... less of that, please
WP have put some outstanding defensive efforts on show - remember their win over the Golden Lions at Newlands? That was massive. But as defence coach Norman Laker said after that fixture, WP are too dangerous with ball in hand to spend the majority of a game defending. Hey, top defence can never be a bad thing, but it would be even better if they can continue their solid defence while outshining the opposition on attack as well... just like we know they can.