Province’s pack mentality

‘Boss the set-pieces and win the Currie Cup’ is Anton van Zyl’s simple yet practical recipe for domestic success.

On the surface, it seems obvious. You don’t need a degree from Oxford to tell you that a side with the best pack of forwards usually dominates the Currie Cup. The Bulls triumphed in 2009 and the belligerent Sharks the year before that. The theory is not limited to the Currie Cup when you consider that the two best packs contested this year’s all-South African Super 14 final.

While Van Zyl appears to be stating the obvious, there’s a deeper ambition behind the comment, and indeed a suggestion that this Cape team has come a long way. It wasn’t too long ago that the WP ‘light-five’ were the topic of much mirth. If Van Zyl had made the statement three or four years ago, he would have been laughed at.

Since 2008, the side has grown and developed into a formidable forward unit. Their lineout was particularly potent in 2010 and their scrum, while still short on experience, has done immensely well in the face of adversity. They will contend for the top spot in the coming domestic tournament, and perhaps the greatest challenge is maintaining the high standards set in the Super 14.

‘Teams that win championships usually rely on a strong set-piece,’ Van Zyl, the new WP skipper, told ‘We’ve based a lot of our game plan around the lineouts, the scrums and the kickoffs, so it’s vital that we succeed in these departments.’

Van Zyl is one of the players elevated to the starting line-up due to departure of those on Springbok duty. There’s been talk that this WP side may struggle without the bulk of their quality players, but Van Zyl is adamant that this side has sufficient quality in reserve.

‘I consider it a privilege to captain the side, but it’s an easy job when you remember how many leaders there are in the various departments. There’s still a lot of experience in this team, so we can’t use that as an excuse.

‘We’ve got to build on our performance in this year’s Super 14. The preparation for that tournament began in last year’s Currie Cup, so while we are building on that and have high expectations for this year’s Currie Cup, we are also preparing for the 2011 Super 15.’

Coach Allister Coetzee has been reluctant to talk about winning domestic titles, and it’s clear the Super 15 tournament is the No 1 priority. At the same time, Coetzee wants the next generation of players to put their hands up and push the incumbents for a spot in that Super 15 squad. That, according to Coetzee, is how the Cape team will develop depth.

‘Our junior sides have done well [the U13s and U16s won their respective Craven Week competitions while the U18s lost in the unofficial final] and we are hoping for a similar success at U19, U21 and senior level. It was a pleasure to see so many Boks selected from this region, but now the challenge is bring the youngsters through.’

Twenty-year-old Rynhardt Elstadt has some big boots to fill this weekend, as does the perennial bench-rider Pieter Louw. Elstadt will replace Francois Louw while Pieter Louw fills in for Schalk Burger. While Van Zyl is no youngster, he’s tasked with performing the duties of lineout kingpin Andries Bekker.

The efficiency of the WP pack will be put to the test from the first fixture, as traditionally, the Cheetahs are tough to beat up front. They are missing David de Villiers in the second row and have no official lock cover on the bench, but Van Zyl stressed that it would be unwise to underestimate them in Bloemfontein.

‘[Seasoned lock] Barend Pieterse may not be playing, but he’ll be around to give the guys some good input. They have two fresh locks [Izak van der Westhuizen and Walti Vermeulen] and we’re expecting nothing but the sternest of tests.

‘We respect the Cheetahs and have noted how well they did towards the end of the Super 14. We want to use this Currie Cup to improve for the Super 15, and that begins with this first match against the Cheetahs.’

Coetzee added that while he hopes the side will cut their error rate to a minimum, he doesn’t expect the new combinations to gel straight away.

‘We would have liked to have played more warm-up games before this clash, but that wasn’t possible because we played in the Super 14 final.

‘Having said that, I think we are well prepared for the challenge and come Monday, we will know where we stand,’ he said.

By Jon Cardinelli