Cape Town – Western Province’s conditioning may have been a
key ingredient in their drought-breaking Currie Cup 2012 success.
GALLERY: WP crowned Currie Cup Champs
Consider this: they were mostly the “back foot” team in both
their semi-final triumph over the Lions in Johannesburg and then again for
significant passages in the showpiece against the Sharks on Saturday.
The tackling and scrambling required under those
circumstances, plus playing second fiddle at scrum-time for the most part,
usually has debilitating consequences, yet Province somehow seemed to defy
conventional wisdom by producing some of their best and crucially most
energetic rugby late on, in each instance.
Forget the fact that the Sharks were strongly on the
offensive as the final whistle sounded at Mr Price Kings Park: that had only been
the result of a turnover breakout from deep in their own territory and for most
of the last 20 to 25 minutes of the nail-biting, enthralling occasion, it had
instead been the visitors predominantly turning the screws as the favourites’
prolonged assault suddenly turned to collective jelly-legs.
Of course the blue-and-whites would not even have actually
reached the final had it not been for one of the most decisive and spectacular
rolling mauls – and you can hardly be dead on your feet for that, surely? – of
the entire South African season in stoppage time at Coca-Cola Park a week
Province’s noteworthy stamina levels quickly came under
focus on Monday morning, when victorious coach Allister Coetzee and young
starting scrumhalf Nic Groom were guests on the 567 Cape Talk radio station.
“I think the whole season we kind of have this trend of
finishing really strongly ... the last 20, last 15 (minutes),” Groom said.
“Although I was on the bench by that period on Saturday
(replaced by substitute Louis Schreuder) I was sort of confident we would do
“When Joe Pietersen made that (key retrieving tackle during
the Sharks’ late counter-attack) ... he gets up again and has another go.
Demetri (Catrakilis) had also made a tackle 20 metres further up the field, got
up and made a tackle again, you know.
“That desperation has just been something that’s been in our
team the whole time, and it was so good to see.”
Coetzee, meanwhile, took the opportunity to praise the
mostly 20- and 21-year-olds in Province’s tight five on Saturday.
“You know, if you look at front-five play, and you see
mostly under-21s, it is a big task for those ‘lighties’ to front up ... most of
the guys at prop, hooker and lock only mature at the age of around 25 or 26.
“It shows the heart and connectiveness in the team – the
senior blokes back the youngsters, and the whole management team also back the
youngsters. They understand the plan, what to do.”
The coach probably pulled off an unheralded strategic
masterstroke, too, by sticking with his first-choice props, Steven Kitshoff and
Frans Malberhe, until very close to the finish despite the early boiler-room strain
they had taken against crusty, established Springboks Jannie du Plessis and
Beast Mtawarira respectively.
He had two props available as replacements – Brok Harris and
Deon Carstens – but despite that relative luxury did not hit any premature
panic buttons as the starting pair instead went remarkably up a gear around the
hour mark and WP even got their own back at a few set-pieces.
This seemed just another pointer to high levels of fitness
throughout the squad, especially when you consider the commitment Kitshoff and
Malherbe had already had to muster defensively by that juncture in the game.
By contrast, Sharks coach John Plumtree has taken some
criticism from pundits for withdrawing fired-up veteran Bok tighthead Du
Plessis before the start of the all-important final quarter.
In his defence, he may have been at least slightly motivated
by humanitarian – not to mention national-team – concerns, as the big, now northern
hemisphere tour-bound No 3 had experienced some form of concussion only a week
earlier and was deemed doubtful in the lead-up days to the showpiece encounter.
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