Allister Coetzee has identified the kicking game as all-important in what should be a rain-affected final at Kings Park this Saturday.
The Sharks go into this clash with the form pack of forwards as far as the breakdown and scrums are concerned. When it comes to the lineout and mauling, however, it is the WP heavies that will have the edge.
A dominant forward showing is typically at the heart of every championship-winning performance, but so too is a tactical-kicking display that allows a team to win the territorial battle. And when the conditions are poor, this battle becomes even more important.
Last Saturday’ semi-final in Durban was marred by wet weather, but the Sharks adapted accordingly to beat the Blue Bulls 20-3. The Sharks dominated the territory in this fixture, and it is something that hasn’t escaped the attention of their next opponents.
It will be raining in Durban again this Saturday, and Coetzee is preparing his WP charges for a tactical arm-wrestle in testing conditions.
‘We have played in a few games that have been rain-affected this year,’ said the WP coach, ‘and upon review of those games we have picked up a few things. We’ve learned a few lessons and got a few new ideas, so we’re not adverse to playing in those wet conditions again.
‘I thought the Sharks were excellent in the way they kept the Bulls to just three points. Their plan is working, they really succeeded in strangling them. We will, however, be prepared to cope with that kind of challenge this week.’
Province beat the Lions last week thanks to a last-gasp pushover try. The manner of victory highlighted the composure of what is a young and inexperienced squad, as well as the threat of their forwards. Coetzee, however, was disappointed with the overall performance and will demand more of his charges this week.
‘We’ve got to make sure we pitch up and win the little battles: in the forwards, the kicking game… all of them. We have to execute better than we did in Johannesburg. Everybody is excited about the big occasion, but you still have to execute on the day.’
Coetzee said he didn’t mind that his green side were being written off ahead of the big final at Kings Park. According to the coach, who has already led the Cape side to two finals and three semi-final appearances in three years, form counts for very little in these do-or-die clashes.
‘You always want to be the underdog, but we are happy with where we are as a team. It’s a final, the team that makes the least mistakes and takes their opportunities, who plays for 80 minutes, will win it.
‘Our motto is to stay in the moment, we will forget about what has happened already this season [WP have lost to the Sharks twice], and keep our heads in the moment.’
Coetzee’s reference to the kicking game suggests that players like scrumhalf Nic Groom, flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis and fullback Gio Aplon will have important roles to play in the strive for territory.
Some will feel that Joe Pietersen may have been more suited to a contest where kicking is all important, but Coetzee feels the left boot of Aplon will complement the right hoof of Catrakilis.
Pietersen could, however, have an influential role to play in the second half, as could a substitute like Louis Schreuder. WP were at their best during the final 20 minutes of last week’s semi-final, and both these players made significant contributions.
Some would argue that they deserve a promotion, but Coetzee would rather that they stick to the task of making an impact late in the game.
‘They’ve made an impact and that’s what we wanted them to do. I don’t think we will change much in terms of selection. You look at the other guys [who are starting], they are not good at coming off the bench. We must use what we have.
‘Louis played his part as back-up 10, while Joe kicked well and showed good composure with ball in hand. Even a guy like Jebb Sinclair made a crucial lineout steal. Those are the kinds of contributions we need from our impact players.’
By Jon Cardinelli