Western Province rugby will have you believe that they are well pleased with a ‘test-like’ victory over their arch-rivals the Blue Bulls on the weekend, but the reality is that the team that took more from this game is in fact the men from Pretoria.
When Allister Coetzee joined Western Province there was a clear indication that Western Province rugby and Stormers rugby wants to move away from being labelled a running or attacking team by placing a lot of emphasis on structure.
Two of Coetzee’s assistants played a massive part in this process in Matt Proudfoot who took charge of the forwards and Jacques Nienaber who is in charge of the defensive structures within the team.
Province and the Stormers suddenly adopted a more pragmatic approach to their game where patience was key, and through that they achieved a lot of success especially in 2010 in the Super 14 and currently enjoying an unbeaten run in the Currie Cup.
They followed this approach doggedly sometimes to the frustrations of their fans where a more open, risky approach was never even considered or delivered against the weaker Currie Cup teams. They did win comfortably in all those matches but it left you wondering as an observer to their games if they can actually read the situation correctly in a game situation?
Throughout the Currie Cup campaign Western Province followed to route of forwards grinding out ascendency, keeping opposition players at bay through clinical defense and dominating territory and the scoreboard mainly through the boot of Willem de Waal.
The test however was always going to be the Blue Bulls – a team that has had the wood over them for the best part of the 21st century and one has to say, their ability to read the situation again left a lot to be desired.
It was actually ironic Allister Coetzee mentioned a test like victory, because some of the decision making on the park especially in the first half where Western Province dominated territory and possession, resembled anything but a test match.
In test match rugby there is a term which refers to ‘scoreboard pressure’. This basically means that you increase and maintain pressure on your opponents not only through your domination in play, but also by taking every point on offer to create a gap between you and the opposition. This of course allows you to dominate where the opposition more often than not are forced to play outside of their preferred structures and end up playing catch-up rugby. As they do this, the likelyhood for more mistakes from them, or more gaps opening up increas as you have now succeeded in taking them out of their comfort zone and a win, or even big win is now more likely provided you stick to what you are good at.
In the first half Western Province carried the ball into tackled situations close to 50 times, losing only two balls. In comparison the Bulls only had enough ball to do this 20 odd times also losing the odd ball or two or conceding a penalty.
Apart from this dominance Western Province had 5 opportunities to put 3 points on the board through the boot of Willem de Waal who has been deadly accurate throughout the competition. Each time they declined, opting for line-outs or scrums instead and once the half-time whistle went, they only lead by 3 points (6-3).
There was no doubt that the team that took confidence into the change room were the Blue Bulls and it showed when they came out. They drew level in the 42nd minute and all of a sudden the stats which favoured the Province boys in the first half was now dominated by the Blue Bulls as they took the ball up time and time again.
Western Province defense stood tall as they did throughout the season, but had the Blue Bulls not lost key players like Gary Botha and Dewald Potgieter during the game leaving them with a couple of inexperienced youngsters on the park the result may have been well different.
In the end Province prevailed 15 – 12 where all points were scored through the kickers of the respective teams but in a game where it was thought initially that Province will be way too strong for the Bulls and where they dominated for large parts of the first half only to lead by 3 points one can only again go back to the decision making of the Province players and management staff on game day.
Why they decided to abandon a game plan and strategy they were more than happy to bore us with against minnows for large parts of those games and try and intimidate the Blue Bulls by taking them on physically (and losing) only they will know – especially if you sit with the best kicker in the competition at flyhalf.
Perhaps it can be put down to the fact that they are in fact psychologically intimidated by even a second string Bulls team who has enjoyed this mental, physical edge over their Cape rivals for the last decade?
Either way, what we saw on Saturday is Western Province playing dumb rugby which was anything but test-rugby if I have to consider their lack of application and patience which stood them in such good stead in the past.
In my books: Bulls 1 WP 0.