Re­lief for WP as back­line star will play key role against Lions

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

PETER GRANT came through yes­ter­day’s cap­tain’s prac­tice and will def­i­nitely start in the West­ern Prov­ince No 10 jer­sey in to­day’s Cur­rie Cup clash with the Lions at New­lands.

There was some doubt over Grant dur­ing the week af­ter he was forced to miss train­ing ses­sions through back spasms.

When he was ab­sent from the Thurs­day prac­tice, it prompted spec­u­la­tion that Grant might miss the game, but WP com­mu­ni­ca­tion man­ager Gavin Lewis con­firmed yes­ter­day that Grant will def­i­nitely play.

“Peter came through the cap­tain’s prac­tice and he will def­i­nitely play,” said Lewis.

That is good news for WP’s Cur­rie Cup chal­lenge, for to­day’s match is an im­por­tant one in their quest for a home semi-fi­nal as victory will lift them to sec­ond on the log. And with a re­turn fix­ture against the resur­gent Sharks in Dur­ban just around the cor­ner, in the top two is where WP should want to be head­ing into the sec­ond half of the com­pe­ti­tion.

WP are in a much bet­ter po­si­tion now than they were at a cor­re­spond­ing stage of last year’s Cur­rie Cup.

Al­though they did slip up to Gri­quas two weeks ago, they have not dropped the un­ex­pected games that left them short of semi-fi­nal qual­i­fi­ca­tion in 2008.

How­ever, you get the feel­ing that Al­lis­ter Coet­zee and his coach­ing team will be looking for a re­sound­ing per­for­mance to­day to boost con­fi­dence and en­able the team to gather mo­men­tum for there is still a sense that WP are un­der-achiev­ing.

The sec­ond half of the Boland game saw WP be­ing a lot more clin­i­cal, but Prov­ince should not be play­ing to­day to se­cure a place in the top two at the half­way mark – they should have been top of the log and un­beaten. They have not com­pletely fol­lowed through on what was promised when they beat the Sharks on the open­ing week­end.

In both de­feats, against Gri­quas and be­fore that against the Bulls, WP en­joyed much of the mo­men­tum but just weren’t ef­fi­cient enough to score the points that were needed. Tries were left on the ta­ble in both fix­tures, and as Coet­zee ad­mit­ted, his team just isn’t quite “break­ing the camel’s back”.

What Coet­zee and his team are looking for is that point where the team clicks, the ner­vous­ness or “white-line fever” falls away, and the pres­sure that is ap­plied re­sults in at­tacks be­ing rounded off in a clin­i­cal fash­ion.

It has be­come al­most cus­tom­ary for WP teams to come short in games they should have won, but it is a habit that they are go­ing to have to rid them­selves of if they want to chal­lenge for the sil­ver­ware they need for their empty tro­phy cab­i­net.

To­day is a day where they should be looking for full points, and Grant will be a key man in that quest.

He is the most ex­pe­ri­enced back­line player in the WP team, and he would have been sorely missed had he not been on the pitch to­day.

But it was also in­ter­est­ing to hear this week that one of the rea­sons Coet­zee re­called An­ton van Zyl into the start­ing team in place of All Black lock Chris Jack was be­cause the lat­ter won’t be here for next year’s Su­per 14. Coet­zee said he needed to work with the play­ers who will be.

You do get the sense at times that whereas WP were guilty of ne­glect­ing the Cur­rie Cup to push their “we are build­ing for the Su­per 14” line in 2008, this year there are times they go too far in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

For in­stance, un­less they just haven’t learned their les­son, it is hard to imag­ine that the Storm­ers man­age­ment would re­ally con­sider go­ing into the Su­per 14 with two small play­ers in the back three, as WP are to­day (ad­mit­tedly Sireli Naqele­vuki is in­jured and JJ En­gel­brecht is just start­ing out).

In cloud-cuckoo-land, which is a place where there never have been any rugby tro­phies but the ro­man­tics hap­pily dream of matches where flair is king, size may not mat­ter – but in the real world it does. And in the Su­per 14 it is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant.

So is hav­ing a choice of top class op­tions in the key de­ci­sion­mak­ing po­si­tions, which is why in some sense it is a pity WP weren’t forced to­day to go with Con­rad Hoff­mann at fly­half.

The Stor mers ended the Su­per 14 sea­son with the now in­jured Willem de Waal at fly­half and Grant at in­side cen­tre. Un­less there is a big name buy be­ing lined up that we have not heard about, Grant looks des­tined to spe­cialise in the mid­field in 2010 – with De Waal at fly­half.

Great kicker that he is, and all op­po­nents talk about what a dif­fi­cult player he is to play against, it is hard to imag­ine that the Storm­ers man­age­ment will be comfortable to go into the com­pe­ti­tion bank­ing too much on De Waal to play ev­ery game.

At the very least he is go­ing to re­quire qual­ity back-up, and see­ing him play Cur­rie Cup will tell us how far away the prodi­giously tal­ented Hoff­mann is from pro­vid­ing an ex­cit­ing ex­tra op­tion.

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