De Waal to spearhead WP assault

Allister Coetzee will favour the limited but experienced Willem de Waal over the multi-talented but green Lionel Cronje in the coming Currie Cup tournament.

After a great showing in the Super 14, the Cape side’s premier pivot, Peter Grant, signed a six-month contract with Japanese club Kobe Steel Ltd. Grant’s departure meant the WP coaching staff were left with two flyhalf options. They could persist with the tried and tested De Waal or develop Cronje with the Super 15 competition in mind.

De Waal’s kicking game and experience is viewed as a massive plus, but there is a feeling within the WP coaching ranks that Cronje is a flyhalf for the future. He has the raw attacking and kicking abilities, skills that will only be polished through an extended run in the Currie Cup.

It may serve the Stormers’ cause to utilise De Waal and Cronje in equal measure during the domestic competition, but Coetzee told that at the moment, one player is favoured over the other.

‘Willem was the man next in line behind Bash [Grant] during the Super 14, so it’s not just a case of saying Lionel needs opportunities, as Willem needs opportunities as well,’ the WP coach said. ‘We can’t just talk about Lionel’s development, as we have to look at what’s good for the team too.

‘It must be remembered that Lionel had his great opportunity with the Stormers and then something unfortunate happened [Cronje was suspended after he was involved in a brawl outside a nightclub]. He will get his chances in the Currie Cup, but we can only make those calls on a week-to-week basis. We will have to see where we are in the competition before we start making changes.

‘Lionel still qualifies to play U21 rugby so he may be used there as well.’

WP are short on first-choice backline players, as aside from Grant’s move to Japan, Joe Pietersen and Sireli Naqelevuki have joined French clubs and Ricky Januarie, Bryan Habana, Gio Aplon, Jaque Fourie and Juan de Jongh are in the Springboks’ Tri-Nations squad.

Twenty-two-year-old Dewaldt Duvenage is the new WP vice-captain, and perhaps management felt that De Waal’s experience was necessary in a back division where there’s no established combination in midfield or in the back-three. It may be a risk to start Cronje at 10, but it begs the question, if you can’t give him an extended run now, when can you?

The downside of starting De Waal is his obvious shortcomings on attack. While he possesses a prodigious kicking game, he isn’t know for his running or creative prowess. If WP were really hoping to pick up where the Stormers left off, perhaps they should have favoured a strong attacking player like Cronje, who also has the boot to hurt opposition teams in a tactical battle.

Starting De Waal will require a change in tactics, and Coetzee admitted that the Currie Cup will also be used to address the weaknesses that cost them in the Super 14. After the Stormers’ loss to the Bulls in the final, Coetzee said there were a few areas in which the Cape side must improve if they’re going to win their first Super Rugby trophy.

The kicking game requires refinement, although it’s hard to see how they can improve their kicking game when their best flyhalf is playing in Japan. They will look to maintain the high standards set by their forwards, but they were only starting to develop some attacking versatility in the second half of the Super 14. Will De Waal provide them with versatile options in this department? It’s hard to see them building on that momentum.

As his record suggests, the veteran is capable of winning Currie Cups, and while this remains an ambition for WP, they also need to address the development of the next generation. Coetzee said it will be difficult to strike this balance.

‘It’s a great challenge, but there must be no excuses. We’ve lost a lot of players, but there’s still quality players available. While they may have not played in the Super 14, these players have been training with us for some time.

‘We want this team to build momentum and then we can think about phasing guys like Lionel in. There are a few other players we have to think about [like Nick Koster and another young flyhalf in Gary van Aswegen]. We have to weigh it up and decide whether it’s worth having them on the bench or letting them develop in the U21 side. We are working towards a solution.’

By Jon Cardinelli