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