Rugby writer Wynona Louw looks back at Western Province’s 2016 Currie Cup campaign
The right ticks
Province placed a lot of emphasis on attacking play this season, particularly getting more width on attack. Throughout the season coach John Dobson has said that WP had been working hard on their attacking shape to get wider so they could be harder to defend against. The Cape side made good strides in this regard and things looked particularly impressive against the Sharks in round four when they ran the Durbanites ragged to earn a 34-27 bonus-point win at Newlands. They also showed a lot of promise on attack a week earlier against the Eastern Province Kings, running in six tries to nil in Port Elizabeth. Against Griquas away, WP spoiled the Kimberley outfit’s 130th anniversary celebrations with an outstanding second-half performance in which they crossed the try line four times in the second half after two first half tries.
Huw Jones has been sensational this season. The WP Players’ Player of the Year has visited the try line or at least created a try in every game he has played this season. In their 32-25 loss to the Cheetahs in the early stages of the competition, the Scotland international kept Province alive after scoring the opening try of the match and brilliantly created another to send flank Kobus van Dyk over for their second.
Jones inspired WP to a 31-23 bonus-point win over the Pumas at Newlands as he set up his side’s opening try by wing Werner Kok, before scoring the try of the match in the second half. Jones broke down the field and exploited the smallest of spaces to break through, before offloading to Kok for the try. The man himself scored when a ball from the base of a ruck was passed to Robert du Preez, who then offloaded to Jones. He side-stepped five defenders and beat a sixth to score next to the poles.
Du Preez was another positive for Province this season. After getting the nod over Brandon Thomson in the early stages of the campaign, Du Preez justified his selection with improved performances as the competition progressed. His tactical game improved, his goal-kicking was good and he produced a masterful performance to steer Province to a second consecutive win as they scored five tries to two against the Sharks in a pulsating outing at Newlands. The pivot brilliantly controlled the game in a man-of-the-match production as he created three tries, slotted three conversions and a penalty.
Another player who has done well this year is Springbok Sevens recruit Werner Kok. He has made a seamless transition into fifteens and his speed, power and work rate have made him a real asset.
The wrong ticks
A bad start
You know how ‘they’say a good start is half the battle won? Well that wasn’t exactly the case for Province. They suffered a 45-26 defeat to arch rivals the Bulls at Loftus in their season opener, and two weeks later they again failed to get a win when the Free State Cheetahs beat them 32-25 at Newlands, putting huge pressure on themselves. And after losing to the Golden Lions a few weeks later, they had to treat all their remaining games as a quarter-final and had to ‘fight and claw’ their way into the semis, as Dobson put it in the build-up to the play-offs.
Province’s defence has at times looked non-existent this season. They leaked six tries to the Bulls in their opening match at Loftus and their tackles were flimsy and too easily broken. Their defensive organisation was no better. The Lions also exposed WP’s defensive flaws when they ran in eight tries at Ellis Park, and WP’s defence continued to be heavily scrutinised throughout the season.
Injuries and more injuries
Province aren’t to blame for the injuries a great number of their players sustained this season, but it is definitely one of the things that didn’t go their way in 2016. A season-ending injury to Scarra Ntubeni, and injuries to Chad Solomon and Martin Ferreira left Province all out of hooker stock for the remainder of their campaign. And with Bongi Mbonambi on Springbok duty, they had to call on EP Kings No 2 Michael Willemse to fill the void. Jones, Johnny Kotze, Jano Vermaak, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Rynhardt Elstadt, Oli Kebble, Godlen Masimla, EW Viljoen and Dewaldt Duvenage were all some of the Province players who sustained injuries during the competition, and WP were already without the services of a number of players who featured in Super Rugby.