Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Western Province are comfortable with the knowledge that Griquas are coming to Cape Town on Friday in a desperate mood for if there is one thing they really want right now, it is to have their game subjected to a thorough examination.
WP travel to Pretoria to play the Blue Bulls the week after the Griquas game, and then it is back to Newlands for the appetising final league fixture against the Sharks.
Province have done their sums, and coach Allister Coetzee reckons that 46 or 47 log points, in other words another eight or nine in addition to their current 38, will be enough to ensure home ground advantage in the semifinals.
That means they need to win two of their remaining three games - and they would prefer not to do it the hard way by having the pressure of having to beat the Sharks in the last game. So it important that they go to Loftus sharp and ready for a challenge that will be a significant step up from what they have faced in recent weeks.
Coetzee is quite pleased with the way his team’s games appear to be getting just that little bit tougher week by week as his men get ready for the business end of the season.
“Griquas have a pack that likes to compete so maybe they can ask the questions that need to be asked before we play against the Blue Bulls,” said Coetzee.
However the WP coach is not taking anything for granted against Griquas, who he says will be on a final footing when they come to Newlands on Friday.
“They are really eager to make the semifinals and they know they have quite a tough run to the end of the season, with their last match being against a Blue Bulls team that by then will have all the Springboks back. We won 50-3 in the first round game, but it was a much tougher match than the scoreline reflected.
“We are going to have to work hard for a win, and the message I have sent out to the guys is that we must remember what that match taught us, which was that we need to earn the right to off-load.”
There is a lot of talk about running rugby and up-tempo rugby in the Cape at the moment, but Coetzee will be hoping that the team will not be as seduced as the public have been by the ease with which they overcame a Pumas team that tried to play a lot of rugby against Province last Friday.
WP were impressive in winning 62-6, and it came close to being their best performance of the domestic season, but the Pumas may have made it easier for WP by trying to engage them in a running game and then there is also the small matter of Pumas not being in the same league as the Bulls when it comes to the forward battle.
Indeed, the Currie Cup statistics show that the Pumas and Griquas are near the bottom when it comes to set-phase statistics, while the Blue Bulls are at the top, so there is no doubt an adjustment will be needed after Friday night’s game.
The WP task for later in the season has been complicated by the fact that Tiaan Liebenberg, the bustling hooker who was one of the leaders in the tight five, has been ruled out for the rest of the Currie Cup season. Initially it was said that his ankle injury would keep him out for six weeks, which would have had him back in time for the semifinal, but according to Coetzee, he would then require another couple of weeks rehabilitation.
“We are not expecting Tiaan back before the semifinals, and it is a big loss, but fortunately Tiaan’s misfortune has offered an opportunity to Deon Fourie, and as you have seen, he is taking that opportunity with both hands. There has been nothing wrong with our scrumming, we lost only two lineouts against the Pumas, and all the other aspects of Deon’s game are outstanding.”
Coetzee added that the return to full fitness and top form of Wicus Blaauw had also been a timely boost.
“Wicus has the ability to be one of the top looseheads and we have been pleased to see the effort he has been putting in. Against the Pumas he did a lot of ball carrying and had a very busy game. He showed us he can play for a full 80 minutes and that is a massive boost for us.”