Prov­ince go Shark-hunt­ing

Pos­i­tive at­ti­tude and pack key in top-of-ta­ble cup clash

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

THERE are al­ways dif­fer­ent ways of looking at things, but for West­ern Prov­ince this is a time to go for the glass half full op­tion as they con­tem­plate their im­me­di­ate chal­lenge in the Cur­rie Cup.

Tak­ing the neg­a­tive line would be to look at the next three games and think of them as a crit­i­cal junc­ture which could blow them out the com­pe­ti­tion if for­tune smiles against them. It is true that fac­ing the Sharks (away), Blue Bulls (home) and Chee­tahs (away) on suc­ces­sive Satur­days is a huge un­der­tak­ing.

But looking at it an­other way, what WP re­ally have, start­ing with to­day’s game against the Sharks in Dur­ban, is a great op­por­tu­nity to vir­tu­ally se­cure a home semi-fi­nal.

Here’s why: Un­like last year, WP are ad­van­taged when they play the two 2008 fi­nal­ists dur­ing the un­der­strength phase as they are not miss­ing nearly as many Spring­boks. Nei­ther the Sharks nor the Bulls are the same teams without their Spring­boks, and Prov­ince don’t get to play ei­ther of them dur­ing the full­strength phase.

So if WP can get through with three wins from their next three matches, or even two out of three, then WP manag­ing di­rec­tor Rob Wagner might as well start the process of in­form­ing his staff that they will be re­quired to work on the semi-fi­nal week­end.

For the re­main­der of the com­pe­ti­tion WP will have their Boks back, and be play­ing in­fe­rior op­po­si­tion.

Sec­ond place at the half­way stage might not sound like a bad place to be, but if WP were bru­tally frank with them­selves, be­ing three points adrift of the Sharks would not have been seen in the stars when the Sharks lost so com­pre­hen­sively in Cape Town in July.

Back then Sharks coach John Plumtree spoke like a man head­ing to the gal­lows, it was al­most as if his ex­cuses for fail­ure had al­ready been fig­ured out.

Then came a not so sub­tle shift in at­ti­tude and a slight change in ap­proach which took into ac­count the ad­just­ment made to the Sharks team strengths when the Boks aren’t present. And they haven’t lost since.

The by-prod­uct of play­ing away from their usual strength, which is the for­wards, has been a dra­matic im­prove­ment in the Sharks’ at­tack­ing game.

This is one game where they should be looking to have their kick and chase, when they do opt to kick, spot on, as much of the cur­rent Sharks strat­egy re­volves around the pu­n­ish­ment of poorly ex­e­cuted kicks. In other words, a good kick that they are forced to kick back will be re­turned by the boot, but if a kick is poorly di­rected, then WP can ex­pect the Sharks to pun­ish them.

It is easy to un­der­stand where the Sharks’ shift has come from. The Bulls and the Spring­boks, with their pow­er­ful for­wards and bril­liant field kick­ers, re­ally have no rea­son to ever bow to the crit­ics of their cur­rent strat­egy.

As Fourie du Preez says, there is winning rugby and los­ing rugby, and they have the play­ers to shut out op­po­nents play­ing that way.

Other lesser mor­tals though can­not have that cer­tainty.

To­day the Sharks know there is a good chance that it will be the home pack that is for once forced onto the back foot in this clash be­tween the coastal ri­vals at King’s Park.

So to make up for that Jo­hann Muller’s team will be work­ing to­wards be­ing on the ball in other ar­eas, as they were when they beat the Lions with be­tween just 30 and 40% of the pos­ses­sion two weeks ago.

The Sharks’ trump is un­de­ni­ably Ar­gen­tinian star Juan Martin Her­nan­dez.

That is par­tic­u­larly so in the sense that luck has con­spired to re­strict him to just 30 min­utes in a Sharks jer­sey so far, and be­cause that game was in Rusten­burg it shielded him from anal­y­sis.

WP coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee, in his for­mer trad­ing as Spring­bok as­sis­tant, would have stud­ied Her­nan­dez at the World Cup, but not since then.

As Coet­zee says, every­one knows how good Her­nan­dez’s kick­ing game is, yet you get the sense it is what Her­nan­dez could do with ball in hand that is re­ally ex­cit­ing the Sharks coaches.

As WP cap­tain Luke Wat­son says though, the key to negat­ing the dan­ger posed by Her­nan­dez is to ruin the Sharks ball at source and to be clever about how they deal with the other Sharks king­pin, Jean Dey­sel.

He didn’t say it, but he must surely know it, as must his coaches – all field kicks have to be per­fectly ex­e­cuted, and when they aren’t, the de­fen­sive sys­tem must be well or­gan­ised.

The Sharks rightly start as favourites be­cause they are play­ing with great con­fi­dence.

But in their pack WP do have the ma­te­rial to up­set the cham­pi­ons in their own back­yard and thus set in mo­tion a wave of mo­men­tum to carry them through next week’s clash with the Bulls and into clutch­ing dis­tance of a home semi-fi­nal.


CRIT­I­CAL ROLE: West­ern Prov­ince cap­tain Luke Wat­son will have to lead from the front.

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