Cape Town - It is absurdly early to judge just
how much John Dobson, new coach of Western Province, will differ in his ways
from long-serving predecessor Allister Coetzee.
What can be said is that the defending
Currie Cup champions put Dobson’s supposed butterflies in the lead-up - was the
crafty character deliberately talking up Griquas while well aware of their
limitations? - firmly to rest by romping to a 43-19 tourney-opening win in
Kimberley on Friday.
It was done by six tries to three and
mostly with crackle and composure: the only period in which Dobson’s nerves may
have been tested was a stint of 20 to 25 minutes in the second half when his
charges started breathing heavily in the unseasonal warmth and had to repel a
fightback of sorts.
But then an encouraging second wind kicked
in and Province were back well on the front foot when the final whistle went.
It was a satisfying outcome for the rookie
coach, who had gravely suggested a few days prior: “This game is a banana skin
of note ... we would be happy just to come away with a win (minus four-try
Yet many WP fans - including a fair tally
based in the diamond fields, it seems - would have watched this one perhaps
more interested in banking some thoughts on the “Dobson formula” than because
of any genuine fears the minnows might prevail.
After all, it was the first time since the
end of the 2007 campaign that they were seeing a “Streeptruie” team coached by
anyone other than Coetzee, now employed in Japan.
The first thing to remember is that
Coetzee, for all his detractors, undoubtedly had a track record for putting out
both Province and Stormers teams that were consistently tough nuts to crack,
even if their brand of rugby was quite often branded joyless and overly conservative.
But certainly in his seventh and last
Currie Cup year, at least partly prompted by the wishes of his director of
rugby Gert Smal, WP found regular dynamism in playing style and deservedly went
all the way to the title - Coetzee’s second at the helm and fourth appearance
in the showpiece fixture under his charge.
So it will be a while yet before anyone can
feel remotely justified for suggesting with confidence that Dobson is either taking
the province to a new, superior level ... or, indeed, even dragging them
Just for the record, in the lone clash with
Griquas last year, at Newlands, Province won 36-12 - exactly the same 24-point
margin registered under Dobson’s guiding hand on Friday!
There were other reasonably uncanny
similarities with trends from last year: just for starters, opening try scorer
Nizaam Carr looked a much revitalised player at No 8 from the one who generally
disappointed in Super Rugby 2015, and much more like the man who lit up the
domestic competition in 2014.
Then Seabelo Senatla, the wiry left wing
wizard, also rewound the clock to some electric showings last season and was a
constant menace either in generous or limited space; he was a sound choice for
official player of the match.
And if there will always be mixed feelings
about flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, playing his last competition for the
Capetonian franchise this year, he could also be said to be up and running in
the 2015 version after jointly topping the points-scoring list with
Jacques-Louis Potgieter last season.
Not only did he land his usual high
percentage of place-kicks, but his general game was creative and cool-headed,
including some deft passing in the lead-up to a couple of touchdowns.
Toetie v Dobbo? Let’s wait for another day - or week, or handful of months even - to pronounce firm judgement over who
fits the WP coaching shoes best.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing