By Herman R Gibbs, Cape Dreams Editor
- previews today’s CC clash at Newlands
DHL Western Province’s chances of victory against the Blue Bulls in Saturday’s Currie Cup semifinal at Newlands may rest heavily on their ruthless capacity to convert turn-over possession to matchwinning points.
There a distinct thread running through almost all Province’s matchwinning performances this season which shows that turn-over ball rather than first-phase possession was the primary source for scoring tries. This capacity to exploit turn-over ball has secured Province a No 1 spot on the log but it remains to be seen if that capability is enough to survive the cut-throat fare of knock-out matches in the play-off rounds.
The Bulls, on the other hand, arrive at Newlands on the back of three consecutive victories, the last two being bonus-point wins. In these matches, they shrugged off a poor start to the season with performances that suggest that they must be regarded as serious contenders for the title. They have lost to Province twice in their two earlier regular-season matches, but that would have been erased from their memory by now, especially since their last clash was at the end of August – almost seven week ago.
Province have identified the Bulls forwards as the biggest obstacle in their quest for victory on Saturday. That much is reflected by Province’s choice of four locks in the pack in an effort to contain the Bulls’ threat upfront. Apart from specialist locks Manuel Carizza and Jean Kleyn, Michael Rhodes and Rynhardt Elstadt who have often been deployed in the second row this season, have been chosen as flankers. It may not give Province the edge at breakdown play in the absence of specialist flankers but it will help to bolster their physicality and set-piece capacity.
Province coach Allister Coetzee has cautioned that the make-up of the pack does not suggest that his side will adopt a new playing pattern.
“There is nothing new that we are doing. It’s been a well-planned week, and the players who came back this week (after a break last week) slotted in nicely,” said Coetzee.
“You cannot just be ignorant about it and say, ‘no, we’re going to play this way’. You have the ball 50 percent of the time and they have 50 percent of the ball and it’s how best possible will you utilize their possession.
“We know it will be a physical battle and mauling is one of their big platforms.”
In the run up the match, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has not shed much light on how they plan to mount their challenge and has played down the impact that their match winner Handrè Pollard could have on the outcome.
“This match will not be won by individuals, but by a mighty team effort,” said Ludeke. “WP must be favourites and rightly so. They have played great rugby this season and deservedly are hosting a semifinal. We lost to them twice in this competition so are under no illusion on the magnitude of our challenge.
“That said we are certainly not travelling down south to go and surrender. We are going down there to win the match and get into the final.”
It is worth noting that in recent seasons some of the most successful Newlands outfits (Province and Stormers) have been undone by kicking tactics which created havoc in their usually reliable defence structures. Province’s defence have been vulnerable against grubber and chip kicks and the Bulls’ intelligence would have picked this up going into the match.
However, it is a ploy that Bulls will have to use wisely otherwise since it could backfire miserably given the counter-attack striking ability of the Province trio Cheslin Kolbe, Seabelo Senatla and Kobus van Wyk. This trio is without match when it comes to exploiting the opposition’s wayward or erratic kicks.
Province have a champion place-kicker in flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis but he only becomes a major factor when penalties in the opposition half are on offer. If however, the Bulls starve Province of penalties, Catrakilis won’t be a factor.
The Bulls will have the luxury of fielding two polished pivots in the match although Springbok Pollard will line-up at inside centre, with Jacques-Louis Potgieter at half-back. Every now and again during the match one can expect Pollard to slot into the flyhalf berth and this poses constant danger for Province since he has been in devastating form in that position against the All Blacks recently.
Moreover, he offers great depth with his field kicking which could help the Bulls to exit their half with the minimum of effort.
There are only two certainties going into the match; if Province wins they host next week’s final, if the Bulls win they will be the away team in the final.