CAPE TOWN - Western Province’s 30-17 defeat to the Free State Cheetahs shouldn’t give coach John Dobson too many sleepless nights, but it did reveal a few areas which could do with improvement.
The Cheetahs secured their second victory in as many weeks when they bagged the 30-17 win over Province in Bloemfontein on Sunday, and it’s fair to say that they were the favourites going into the match. So WP’s defeat probably can’t be regarded as an early red flag - and that’s not only because the Cheetahs were the more settled team and enjoyed a very favourable home ground advantage.
Dobson fielded a team that was basically a hybrid of SuperSport Rugby Challenge players and Super Rugby experience.
Guys like fullback SP Marais, wing Seabelo Senatla, loose forwards Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Kobus van Dyk, tighthead prop Wilco Louw, captain and lock Chris van Zyl and hooker Ramone Samuels all brought some significant Super experience, while players who had mostly received SuperSport Challenge exposure like centre Michael Hazner, wing Bjorn Basson, flyhalves Kurt Coleman and Brandon Thomson and scrumhalves Justin Phillips and Godlen Masimla added to the mix.
There’s probably not too much to worry about if you consider the fact that WP went up against what can best be described as practically a Cheetahs Super Rugby outfit (playing at home - where they haven’t lost since 2015), but nonetheless, Province will have to step up in certain departments if they want to pull in a confidence-boosting win over the Pumas this weekend.
Firstly, last week, Province dominated territory and possession in the first half, but they failed to make it count enough. They went into the break trailing 17-11, which was already worrying seeing that the Cheetahs saw much less of the ball than Province did, but the hosts managed to convert their few chances into points. So, basically, the Cheetahs were way more clinical than Province - something that you can perhaps put down to them being a more settled outfit. So there was continuity.
But Province’s defence was not up to standard either and they let in a few soft Cheetahs tries, while the Cheetahs smashed any notions of defence being an afterthought in the Free State as they put massive pressure on the opposition with their line speed.
Another area where Province just were not good enough was in the lineout.
The Cheetahs snatched a number of Province’s balls at the set-piece, and it’s certainly a division that should be given attention, as the lineouts were also a bit of a problem in the Stormers camp at certain stages of the Super Rugby competition.
Then there were the personnel issues, although those were not as much of an issue as are changes I’d like to see.
Now I understand that it’s still early days and it was WP’s first Currie Cup game of the season (they had a bye in round one). The team is also still trying out their combinations while taking into account the management of players who have played a lot of rugby this season.
But one player I’d like to see feature more this campaign is Masimla. The other No 9, Phillips, who scored a fine try as he showed great body positioning and quick thinking to get the ball over the try line on Sunday, has gained a bit of Super Rugby experience this season. And Masimla is one who I’d like to see get more opportunities to show his devastating ability around the fringes and his overall skill.
In midfield WP don’t have too many options currently, with Dan du Plessis on the injury list, and the departure of Springbok centre Juan de Jongh and Scottish international Huw Jones, while Super Rugby regular EW Viljoen and Damian de Allende’s need to be carefully managed in terms of workload.
Even though the options are limited, Dan Kriel was once again ineffective. He made his share of handling errors and didn’t bring much on attack. But again, it’s still early days. And I guess there is still room for trial and error.
And the sooner Province improve can get their perfect mix, be it in terms of fixing areas that need fixing or finding the right combinations, the better.