CAPE TOWN – The Blue Bulls had nothing on Western Province in Pretoria last weekend. That’s for sure.
Province owned that 40-minute game. And the only thing that was more impressive than their six-match unbeaten run following their 34-7 Currie Cup triumph was how they went about racking up 30-plus points in those conditions.
While the fact that they managed to run in three tries and also get a penalty try while playing on a turf where grip gloves would have been handy is seriously impressive, it was their superbly stable and powerful scrummaging performance that would have burdened the Bulls with nightmares heading into the semi-final on Saturday.
For WP, it’s obviously one of the main things they’ll want to get right again, while the Bulls will have analysed and dissected every nook and cranny of the pack-down to prevent being shown up again.
Earlier this week, Bulls boss Pote Human made it clear that the same kind of results can be expected this weekend if they get assaulted by Wilco Louw & Co again. And that can’t really be argued. The Bulls will have to step up, and WP just have to make their scrum a sequel to Loftus Part 1 and they shouldn’t have any worries.
Then there was the Bulls’ ball retention, or lack thereof - another thing that will be crucial at Newlands given WP’s counter-attacking habits.
From the first-minute knock-ons to a few heavier mistakes, which WP of course pounced on, the Bulls didn’t do themselves any favours against the most dangerous counter-attacking outfit in the competition.
They will have no excuses for not being able to protect the ball in the rematch (even though you can’t really mitigate those wet-ball offences, after all, Province played in the same stadium), while WP’s arsenal will be salivating at the chance to do what they feel they couldn’t really do in that weather last week - do more with the ball.
Earlier this week, WP flyhalf Damian Willemse said: “We did not have the opportunity on the weekend. But that stuff happens and Sergeal (Petersen) and SP (Marais) have been playing well and are exciting. Hopefully this weekend we get a few touches and we can spark our magic and our skills.”
WP defence coach Norman Laker also said that the fact that they’ve now stepped into finals rugby territory won’t discourage them from playing the game that’s taken them to the top of the standings and gifted them an insane points difference, compared to the other contenders.
So ja, that should say enough. Defence is going to be important. The Bulls will somehow have to box-in all that firepower and actually make use of their chances, while WP just need to do more of the same on defence to keep the Bulls’ try-tap sealed (and throwing in some of that collision-dominance will also help against a Bulls pack that should be a sturdier unit in the dry).
Those are some of the big things WP will want to continue and the Bulls will want to do differently on Saturday evening ... for 80 minutes.
WP have not lost to the Bulls at Newlands since 2009 - a semi the visitors won 21-9, before going on to win the competition. That was the last time the Bulls had the honour of sipping from the trophy, while the defending champions have tasted that glory three times since.
And if they manage to replicate the intent they showed in Pretoria - and the Bulls don’t step up big time - then it just might be WP again who travel around town showing off the silverware.