Province aim to strike brutal balance

Allister Coetzee says discipline will be just as important as aggression when WP face off against a much-fancied Sharks pack this Saturday.

Controlled aggression. We saw it in the final play of the semi-final between the Golden Lions and Western Province. The latter team won the lineout, set the maul, and then drove some 20 metres to score the match-winning try.

It was a disappointing showing overall, but WP will be using that final thrust as inspiration ahead of a brutally physical battle with the Sharks.

Coetzee has said as much during the build up to Saturday’s Currie Cup final, although he has cautioned his predominantly young and experienced pack not to go overboard with the aggression.

The Sharks are set to field a Springbok-laden pack, and while this suggests that they will be too powerful for the WP contingent, they could also be too smart.

It is not unknown for experienced campaigners to goad their younger opponents, to push them until they cross the line and earn that yellow ticket to the sin bin.

The eight WP forwards that take the field will know that they are underdogs, and yet, as an eight-man unit they will feel they are in with a chance. If they do, however, overdo the aggression and lose a man to the bin, then the chances will quickly decrease from slim to none.

It’s going to be a difficult tightrope to walk.

‘The Sharks’ plan is built on power, so we have to match that,’ said Coetzee.’The set pieces will be massively important, before anything else, you have to win your set-piece ball. Then you have to be accurate at the breakdown and provide your halfbacks with a good platform. From there, you can look to play us into the right areas.

‘There’s a misconception that the Sharks play this running brand of rugby. Really, they kick more than the Bulls. So our physicality has to be up there, as does our execution. And for 80 minutes, we will also need to maintain our discipline.

‘We understand that the pressure will be there, but we can’t lose our temper or our cool. We can’t get sucked into any off-the-ball stuff. A penalty will be as good as a try in wet conditions.’

Eben Etzebeth has already been suspended once this season for an off-the-ball incident. Playing for the Boks in a Test against the Wallabies in Perth, Etzebeth went too far in an altercation with Nathan Sharpe. That headbutt may not have cost the Boks in that particular match, but it is the kind of transgression that a more vigilant referee may have punished with a card. Hopefully that lesson has been learned.

Saturday’s game at Kings Park will represent Etzebeth’s first final at senior level. Steven Kitshoff, Scarra Ntubeni and Frans Malherbe will be also be competing in a championship final for the first time. The same is true for flank Don Armand, as well as reserve lock Wilhelm van der Sluys. A lot will be expected of these players mentally as well as physically.

Throughout the week, Coetzee has spoken about meeting the Sharks’ physicality head on, but also about maintaining discipline and keeping penalties and mistakes to a minimum.

The Sharks boast a goal-kicker in sublime form. If the WP forwards don’t live up to Coetzee’s expectations, then Pat Lambie will make the Cape side pay dearly.

By Jon Cardinelli