WP 'revival' losing steam?

2011-08-13 11:28

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Durban - If they reach the Absa Currie Cup final again this year, defending champions the Sharks may well look back on their narrow win against Western Province at a wet Newlands as a defining moment of their drive to the important, home showpiece.

Although there are several credible candidates to go all the way to the October 29 date - even the sluggish Blue Bulls may just have turned a little corner at Mbombela Stadium on Friday night - a repeat of last year’s final, when the Sharks thumped Province at Mr Price Kings Park, can hardly be ruled out.

But with the halfway mark in the competition now only two matches away for most sides (log-leaders the Lions host the Cheetahs in a Saturday night affair after the Springbok Test match to end this weekend’s programme) some danger signs have presented themselves anew for a WP side desperate to end a 10-year major trophy drought in Cape Town.

For if the Cheetahs win in Johannesburg, which would not come as a surprise of especially staggering proportions, Allister Coetzee’s charges, fourth as this is penned, would drop out of the “semi-final” slots to fifth.

They have a few things to chew on, because after playing sometimes quite brilliantly above themselves to thrash the Bulls 35-7 a fortnight back, they have since lost twice on the trot to give their long-suffering supporters heart flutters all over again.

There have been tangibly positive developments at Newlands and environs in the last two or three years, in which undoubtedly smart minds like Rassie Erasmus, Coetzee himself and a few others have gone a long away to patiently engineering a return to self-respect at the major union, at both Super Rugby and Currie Cup level.

But despite reaching the finals of both competitions last year, and being South Africa’s best-performing Super Rugby side in 2011, Newlands fans are fully entitled to ask the question once more: “When are we actually going to see either trophy enter the musty cabinet?”

Is it enough for the hierarchy to enthusiastically tout the volume of fresh-faced talent in their fold - from U19 level and upward - ad nauseam?

Is it sufficient comfort to the Newlands faithful to see the U21s romp to a five-tries-to-one triumph over their Sharks counterparts in the Friday evening curtain-raiser, as did happen?

The trouble, I think, is that they’ve heard all these promises before of “building from within”.

Let’s not forget that a few seasons ago, when Nick Mallett was basically the Erasmus-like overseer and Kobus van der Merwe the coach, WP Rugby similarly believed it was in renaissance mode.

But no material gain came from that particular drive, when you think about it: in fact, it is amazing to consider how many of that campaign’s supposedly key elements disappeared elsewhere or, in some cases, into relative anonymity.

Captain Luke Watson went to Bath, before later returning to aid the Eastern Cape “revolution”, second-rowers Francois van der Merwe and Ross Skeate sought new pastures abroad, as did Robbie Diack and the admirably versatile Joe Pietersen, while the nippy, crowd-pleasing wing Zhahier Ryland - admittedly a bit lightweight for top-flight rugby - also drifted off the first-class radar.

In a nutshell, I reckon there’s a case for saying WP Rugby doesn’t have quite the true “depth” it kids itself it does: there’s a bit of an imbalance between a host of significantly inexperienced youngsters, who are probably two or three years away yet from genuine fulfilment of talent (if it actually occurs, mind you) and near-veteran, often unavailable Springboks.

In the latter category obviously fall names like Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Bryan Habana and Schalk Burger, all of whose best days in the game are now very close to the downward slope - and in certain cases evidently even on it.

There just isn’t enough steel left “in the middle” ... and here WP enthusiasts will feel quite justified in forcefully questioning the union’s willingness to offload perfect players, frankly, for a Currie Cup thrust like Francois Louw, Anton van Zyl and also Peter Grant, who continues to punch mysteriously below his flyhalf weight in Japan while our premier domestic competition runs its course.

In fairness, maybe there are times when you simply can’t stop certain determined, rolling stones from bouncing off elsewhere.

And here’s the trouble when a union is perceived to have an enviable barrel of up-and-coming players: many of them get poached. The clearly exciting outside back Johann Sadie, soon Bulls-bound, is a very strong case in point.

Just looking at the respective team sheets, I always felt Province would do really well to get past a Sharks side still sporting something like 10 internationals in their match-day 22.

Province? Just two - and neither of Conrad Jantjes or Hilton Lobberts has come close to a Springbok dressing room in quite a while.

The Sharks’ superior street-wisdom and tactical nous on the wretched night went a long way to explaining their precious triumph.  

It is true that when the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Rynhardt Elstadt are fit again, WP will take on a rather sturdier look once more.

But to arguably compound Province’s present predicament, a glance at the long-range weather forecast suggests that Friday night’s appealing home game against the in-form Lions may be played once more in heavy-underfoot, rain-lashed conditions as the Cape’s unusually sunny winter produces another wee sting in its tail.

Might a no-nonsense, physical Lions eight thus give a frankly limited WP pack further “issues” to grapple with?

You heard it here first ...

Next week’s Currie Cup fixtures:

Friday: WP v Lions, Cape Town; Blue Bulls v Griquas, Pretoria; Sharks v Leopards, Durban.

Saturday: Cheetahs v Pumas, Bloemfontein.


  • fromthecouch - 2011-08-13 11:41

    Province do seem to have more problems than most unions at present and their promises of revival for the best part of the last decade have borne little fruit.

      Marcell - 2011-08-13 11:49

      Chokers from Crusader Park! Hulle praat 'n goeie game, maar dis ook waar dit bly.

      Jeffrey Jones - 2011-08-13 13:26

      Yeah, I think we're all getting a little sick and tired of the same old excuses. WTF is with 2 captains, both hookers. In heavy weather Tiaan Liebenberg should have been an obvious first choice. Hilton Lobberts was never Springbok level he was a quota, looking for a red card. Conrad Jantjes can catch a high ball, and that's about the extent of his contribution.

      WPBLIKSEM - 2011-08-13 21:26

      You don't judge sport on 1 or 2 failures. We must contextualise the last 2 games, both teams(cheetahs and sharks) had "B" team Boks in their teams. WP jou lekker lekker lekker lekker DING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Howzitekse - 2011-08-14 06:16

      Dewaldt, kicks too much, and into the hands of the opposition. This is a trend that started with FDP, and in SA, we rate kicking scrumhalves too highly. That is one reason why our teams score so few tries. Sadie and JJ Engelbrecht would have scored if they got the ball three or four more times instead of living off scraps. Use them while we still have them.

  • SteynaPriest - 2011-08-13 11:41

    non-creativity especially in the backline, as well as bad decision making will cause WP to fail again and again...wake up and smell the coffee...

      Kaapie - 2011-08-14 11:34

      What amazed me was how many times Sadie died with the ball, when he had players on his outside..

  • BlueRaven - 2011-08-13 11:46

    No. This is a young team with loads of potential. Gosh can't believe I just typed that! Retract! ;-) Seriously a good team.

  • Mike@CapeT - 2011-08-13 12:01

    Rob, you are being unnecessarily hard on WP. I doubt whether there were many trueblue WP supporters that really, in their hearts, thought that we would beat a truly experienced Sharks team last night. The fact that we came as close as we did was a feather in the cap to all those young inexperienced players and, let's face it, if it was not for Monsieur Frederic Michalaks impeccable kicking on the night, Province would have undoubtedly won this game....I can't remember the Sharks threatening at any stage of the game.....yes their defence was really good and they have been taught to tackle their opponents backwards really well. Our achilles heel at the moment are our props although young Kittshoff handled himself mightily well for a kid as young as he is. Young Demitri is a revelation, and to think he is our 5th or 6th choice flyhalf. Whitehead played really well - as did Sadie and Engelbrecht but, as they are leaving us, we should not dwell too much on their exploits. Tosibi (sic), although quiet in the first half, came to the fore in the second. No Rob, I thought we acquitted ourselves well last night and, if we can just get rid of some of those niggly discipline issues, there are great things ahead....don't be too sure about the Lion's this coming week!

      Stellenbosch - 2011-08-13 12:16

      Hi Mike, I totally agree with your post. I would also like to add that in my view Houwing has zero right to comment on WP, working as he does for the media company that owns the Sharks. If ever you want to see blatant corruption that is it. I also thought Skinstad's commentating last night was the most biased I have heard in an understated way. Again, he was sucking up to his employers.

      Mike@CapeT - 2011-08-13 12:31

      Stellenbosch...I totalling agree with your comments re Skinstad. As much as I admired him as a player, his commentating is some times too much to handle!

      BiggestBull - 2011-08-13 12:41

      Bob was so one-sided last night it was pathetic. I got so angry at one stage that I threw my Spies blow-up doll at my box tv.

      Jeffrey Jones - 2011-08-13 13:32

      Gotta agree with you Stellenbosch. Sharks were absolutely brilliant in Skinstad's eyes. Totally biased.

      Northern Stormer - 2011-08-13 14:00

      Rob - To rant and rave about the Sharks sporting 8 boks currently is a bit far fetched. Yes they do exactly that but they are definately part of the losing "B" team and really cannot be praised as Boks at all. The same with the Bulls,. Their Boks whom returned this week and last week clearly showed why they are not playing at Kingspark this afternoon. Relax and keep your eyes on the log. This young WP team will show the experienced guys a thing or two in the near future - don't get to excited about them dropping down in the log halfway through the competition !!!!

      Logoll - 2011-08-13 14:09

      Yeah Skinstad just showed his true colours last night. Don't forget he may have played for WP but he is a Durban boytjie to start off with. He always blamed WP for collapsing the scrum but the minute Eugene Van Staden (who were penalised incorrectly according to Skinstad) went off the scrums were stable. That has to say something.

      Caveman28 - 2011-08-13 14:45

      WP team; they are a young team, their top players are playing international / springbok rugby, the weather was bad, the ref was bad, the commintator was bias, someone had a laser, they have just travelled, their are too many injuries, the ANC was voted in................................................. bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Even the Bulls supporters dont moan this much!

  • greyworld - 2011-08-13 12:18

    maybe, if they realize there is more to life than politics.

  • BiggestBull - 2011-08-13 12:39

    Rob, and this is coming from a Bulls supporter, you are being pathetic. Give credit where it's due.

  • Vincent - 2011-08-13 12:59

    I am proud of WP. They are a very young team with non of our springboks back and missing a lot of other players to injuries and over seas clubs. Playing against a very experienced sharks team in terrible conditions and just missing out in the last 5 minutes by an extremely good Michalack. So instead of talking them down, how about give credit were due? I would be more worried about the bulls that were last on the log and now moved up 2 spots bye just scraping through their last game. And they also had a few of their boks back

  • Greg - 2011-08-13 13:25

    Elstadt retrained as a "Juan Smit" flanker PLEASE to replace Flo. We need a hard flanker.

  • Carl Muller - 2011-08-13 14:51

    I think WP is definitely a good team. One lost game is not enough to write the above... Bulls forever.

      BiggestBull - 2011-08-13 14:57

      Absolutely. Well said.

      Steyts - 2011-08-13 15:08

      I can't believe what I am reading here. Two bulls supporters coming up for WP!! Well done to you two. Ek moett se ek sal sukkel om dit te doen vir die bulls, tensy hulle teen oorsee se spanne speel...

  • Steyts - 2011-08-13 14:51

    I think this article is a load of crap!! Look at what is happening at u/19 and u/21 level. WP haven't lost anything there, so the talent is there! WP are currenlty without 8 springboks which is a lot. I do believe WP has a MAJOR PROBLEM!!! THE FRONT ROW!! Goodness me, Brock Harris always loses the ball when going into contact. The fact that he scored the try last night amazed me as this is one of very few cases where he did'nt lose the ball. He also cost the WP the cheetahs game with a pathetic pass!! He is useless at scrumtime! WP need to get a proper frontrow that can go forward. That will solve almost all the problems that WP have on the field!! COME ON RASSIE! GET US SOME PROPER PROPS!!!!!! Let's get rid of Harris. Play the young boys like Malherbe and Kitshoff. As soon as Kritzinger returns at 3 then we will a much more powerful scrum!! P.S. Sadie and Engelbrecht going to the bulls is a MAJOR blow!!!

      BiggestBull - 2011-08-13 15:44

      You know what, Sadie isn't bad but WP's real loss, i.m.o, is JJ.

  • BokBru - 2011-08-13 22:59

    Mr Houwing you said it yourself. "Sharks side still sporting something like 10 internationals in their match-day 22" and WP only lost by 2. Not to bad for a bunch of youngsters. They are learning fast and will go far.

  • David Strauss - 2011-08-14 11:55

    WP junior teams (like most juniors in SA) play so well because they are not over-coached. They do the basics right, follow the rules of engagement and run free. The senior team has no structure at set pieces - not only the collapsing scrums, but Duvenhage is too slow (and he moans at the ref almost as much as Du Preez), and the back line stands too flat (just like the Boks). Secondly there are too many forwards in the back line from second phase onwards (just like the Boks - what with Beast playing wing now) and no creativity as you say, Rob. Defence: Did anyone notice how at sixes and sevens WP were once their line was broken or a high kick beat them (just like the Boks)? Maybe there's a coaching conspiracy going on here...? On the whole, scrum laws have to be sorted out. No matter where and who, the engagement is a constant problem - with umpteen resets and penalties. Watching the 1995 WCF yesterday I once again noticed how few scrum problems there were back then - the contest used to start after the engagement, which is how it should be. Distribution skills seem to be a problem for WP (and the Boks). Compare SA fly-halves (all of them) to Carter and even Cooper, who take on the gain line almost every time they get the ball, and still manage to distribute to a (running) back line. Our no.10's mostly run sideways and throw more hospital passes than acceptable to their (stationary) back lines. Here's a thought: Will SA reach the QF this time?

  • Hotti - 2011-08-15 10:49

    Turn the heat on Alastair and Chippy - they have done nothing for our communities. For far too long they are happy with a cell phone and petrol allowance. I am glad their gross incompetence and unfairness is catching up with them - .COM

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