Vodacom Western Province lost their third consecutive semi-final over the weekend, but this shouldn’t mark their season as a failure.
The side differed greatly to the two teams that lost twice to Free State at Newlands in 2004 and 2005. As a young team with minimal playoff experience and no Springboks involved in the current national set up, they predictably went down 30-45 in Pretoria.
WP captain Luke Watson was reluctant to offer excuses for the loss, admitting the Vodacom Blue Bulls played better on the day. But he explained to Keo.co.za that this season has provided a great platform for Province rugby.
“Our goal was always to make the final and win the Currie Cup,” he said. “Inexperience was a factor on Saturday, but at the same time the fact that most guys were playing in their first semi-final is an encouraging sign.
“We’ve come a long way and exceeded many expectations this season. Not only have we rediscovered a flowing brand of rugby, but a lot of exciting youngsters have come through as well.”
Watson was hard pressed to pick a few standout performers, but mentioned that Gio Aplon, Robbie Diack, Corne Uys and even Francois Louw will all go far with the union and perhaps beyond that.
These players have all typified the spirit in which the game has been played this season. After bombing out of the Vodacom Super 14, coach Kobus van der Merwe took a chance on a bunch of youngsters, telling them to throw the ball around and be innovative on the park.
He may very well have tried to play a bit more conservative and build up his charges through a more structural game plan, but Van der Merwe chose the braver option, and the experiment will be considered a relative success.
“We did not want to fall into that conservative stereotype of South African rugby,” continued Watson. “It was a risk implementing this style, but this is the way rugby should be played. We wanted to put the attraction back into rugby.
“The guys enjoyed this high-skilled style so much more, and I think that was evident in the way they expressed themselves on the field.”
The defeat was still hard to swallow, and for the vast majority of the squad, this marks the end of their rugby year. It will be interesting to see if national coach Jake White takes any of these youngsters on tour to the UK and Ireland, as few can disagree that the Springboks are in need of a strong dose of attacking flair in what has become a premeditated and predictable attack.
By Jon Cardinelli