‘WP have formula to beat Sharks’

WP defence coach Jacques Nienaber believes his team has the blueprint to become the first SA side to beat the Sharks at Kings Park this year.

Nienaber is praised as the guru who has masterminded the Cape teams’ defensive structures, which excelled during Super Rugby and the Currie Cup over the last three years.

The Stormers’ strong guard helped them qualify for two semi-finals (2011 and 2012) and one final (2010) in Super Rugby. WP also featured in one semi-final (2011) and a final (2010) on the domestic scene.

However, those teams all lost their respective play-off matches, extending their title drought to 11 years. The last piece of silverware added to the Newlands trophy cabinet was the 2001 Currie Cup (that’s if you exclude the over-hyped South African conference title won in Super Rugby).

These three years of finals rugby heartache forced the management to rethink their game plan. Backline coach Robbie Fleck revealed to this site in September that this year’s domestic campaign would be used to implement a stronger attacking game, which their players have bought into.

Gio Aplon told me midway during the league phase: ‘We’ve realised the hard way that a strong defence won’t win semi-finals and finals. It’s good enough to get you to the top of the league, but you have to be able to attack well if you want to win those play-off games.’

As a result, WP have scored the second most tries in the tournament (behind the Sharks) and are the third top point-scorers (close behind the Sharks and Golden Lions). They showed great composure with ball in hand to score a late try for a 21-16 comeback semi-final win over the Lions at Ellis Park.

They now have the opportunity to carry that momentum into the final against the Sharks, who have beaten all South African teams at Kings Park during Super Rugby and the Currie Cup in 2012.

While the Sharks have beaten the Stormers and WP four out of five times during these tournaments, Nienaber said the last two defeats have helped the team progress.

‘We were beaten 43-27 in Durban during round two, but we played with 12 men at one stage,’ Nienaber told keo.co.za. ‘We were still in the game before we were issued those two red cards and the final yellow card just made things even more difficult. The Sharks scored three tries with a greater man advantage.

‘But earlier in the game, we were very competitive. We manned up against their powerful pack and had the technical game plan that troubled them.

‘The 25-23 loss in Cape Town in the opening round was a learning curve for us. While we were placing a greater focus on attack, it revealed we didn’t have an effective scramble defence. Most of their tries came from turnovers in possession. But the situation has improved since then. We’ve lost many of our first-choice players to injury, but we have the formula to beat the Sharks in the final.

‘This greater balance between attack, defence and tactical kicking plan also bodes well for Super Rugby next year.’

Nienaber added that the Sharks’ defence and kicking game have been key in their successful year, especially during the Currie Cup.

‘Many people believe the Sharks are doing well because of their strong attack,’ he said. ‘But the Sharks have improved very well on defence. They’re also kicking the ball a lot. The Currie Cup stats show that they’ve kicked the most during the tournament. They even had six more kicks than the Blue Bulls in the semi-final. I don’t think anyone has picked up on that.’

Nienaber believes discipline will be vital in Saturday’s Currie Cup showdown: ‘The Lions conceded more penalties than us at Ellis Park last weekend, but we leaked too many in kickable positions and gave Elton Jantjies a chance to boot his team to victory. We can’t afford that against the Sharks and Pat Lambie.’

By Gareth Duncan