CAPE TOWN - There are many things that will influence the outcome of Western Province’s Currie Cup semi-final clash against the Golden Lions on Saturday.
When the game kicks off at 5pm this weekend, those influences will be everywhere on the field - at the breakdown battle, set-piece contest, game management, individual touches everywhere.
Earlier this week, Province coach John Dobson said that he wants his team to do better on defence and react quicker at the breakdowns (keeping guys like Lions hooker Malcolm Marx, and loose forwards Kwagga Smith and Cyle Brink in mind).
And against the Sharks, WP certainly could have done better in those areas. After all, those are two areas that will definitely have a big influence on the weekend’s result. They always do. But another influence that WP should make sure is a good one, is what they do in opposition 22.
This Currie Cup season, WP haven’t enjoyed a good record away. They’ve won just two of their six away games (against the Sharks and Blue Bulls), and their trips away include defeats to the Golden Lions, Pumas, Griquas and Free State Cheetahs.
But what’s that got to do with the topic of this piece? A lot. You see, in some of those disappointing outings, WP were in the lead, but they let those scoreboard advantages slip. It wasn’t always due to only one reason, but one thing that had become an away-worry for the Cape side during their round-robin stages of the competition was their finishing ability.
Province haven’t made a habit of losing their own lineouts in opposition 22 or losing the scrum battle in that area, in fact, their set-pieces have been functioning well. It’s when they carry the ball into that golden spot that the errors have arisen.
In those away encounters (especially), WP would string together a few good attacking patterns, but handling errors or turning possession over due to whatever other reason annoyingly halted those movements.
But it’s been even more frustrating when they would get all the way into opposition 22, only to cough up possession through negligent ball-handling and poor decision-making.
They’ve also been kept to mostly defensive roles a number of times this season - games in which they would make 200-odd tackles, and after each one of those occasions, WP's coaching staff made it clear that that’s not the way they want to go about their business.
They’re dangerous with ball-in-hand, and with the players that they have how could they not be? And again, turning over possession is one of the reason for them finding themselves in those defensive roles.
Yes, their semi-final date with the Lions isn’t an away game for WP, they will go up against the Johannesburg side in their own back yard - Newlands. So altitude and the pressure that comes with playing away from home won’t be a factor, but it will still be important for WP to turn their chances into points.
Against the Sharks, there were glimpses of this problem again. WP got all the way into the Sharks’ red zone, but lost the ball a number of times, and every time it happened, it was another chance for the men from Durban to capitalise (luckily for the Cape side, a strong second-half performance prevented disappointment).
In the build-up to their match against the Sharks last week, Dobson said that the fact that they couldn’t seem to finish away this season wasn’t a conditioning issue with his players, and added that his side perhaps lacked the killer instinct to sustain their performances throughout the match and finish their fixtures on a high.
But this weekend, they have to. They have to have that killer instinct to secure the win and book their place in the final. Because a team like the Lions won’t allow them to lick their wounds for too long after a wasted opportunity before they pounce on it.
After all, Province have the personnel to finish. They have the skill, pace, and everything else. They just need to make sure that their coach doesn’t have to address the issue of “not finishing” again at the post-match press conference on Saturday.