Johannesburg - Allister Coetzee was right to grab at the consolation after his team’s disappointing 36-32 defeat to the Blue Bulls that his Western Province team’s destiny was in their own hands.
It was the second time this season that the WP coach said something like that after the penultimate match of the league stage of a major competition. In Durban back in May, in lamenting a disappointing defeat to the Sharks at ABSA Stadium in the second last Super 14 game, Coetzee also consoled himself with the knowledge that “destiny is still in our own hands”.
Of course, had WP continued the dominance they showed in the first half hour for the rest of the Loftus match, they would probably have had destiny in their hands in another sense now as Saturday’s match against the Sharks at Newlands would then be about topping the log.
That horse has now bolted, and the best WP can do is end second. If they finish there after Saturday and it means the Bulls travel to Durban for the semifinal and win, the final could still be in Cape Town.
WP only need to win against the Sharks, they don’t have to pick up any bonus points. So for them the knock-out phase effectively starts this week – the message the coaching staff need to put out is a simple one: Win the next three matches and you win the Currie Cup.
They will be boosted by the return of regular skipper Schalk Burger and backline stars Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana (Ricky Januarie is unlikely to start ahead of Dewaldt Duvenage), and Coetzee, without being arrogant, appeared to fancy his team’s chances of winning against a Sharks team that will come to Cape Town with the job of finishing top already completed.
Much of the media speculation this week is sure to centre around how Fourie is going to be absorbed back into a backline that already has two Springbok centres in Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh.
There is the option of playing Fourie on the wing and moving Gio Aplon to fullback, where he is comfortable. Another possibility is that Coetzee starts with Fourie on the bench, and introduces him only later in the game.
However, while this might seem a good position for Province to be in, in reality the identity of their outside backs may be rendered irrelevant by the identity of their flyhalf. Willem de Waal’s kicking game is feared by all opponents, but it has become obvious that WP lose a lot from their attacking game by having him at pivot.
At Loftus at the weekend it was apparent that the Bulls defence found him predictable, with most of the WP attacks off the flyhalf, who tends to stand too deep, being telegraphed. To put it simply, De Waal just doesn’t ask questions of the opposing defence, and this piles pressure on those outside him.
But what can Coetzee do about it now that he has gone almost an entire Currie Cup campaign without offering Lionel Cronje a proper opportunity to settle in at this level? Had he a goalkicking fullback to call on, the possibility of playing Jean de Villiers at flyhalf would not be completely off the wall, but he doesn’t have that.
WP are only naming their team for Saturday’s match on Thursday, and it is anticipated that Coetzee, who has given the players Monday off, is going to take his time over the dilemmas that are presenting themselves. Unfortunately when it comes to the one big question that needs answering, the one about the flyhalf, there is no ready solution.