MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day newspaper column, says Western Province lifted the Currie Cup in Durban because they played as a team.
World Cup-winning coach Jake White was often quoted as saying the 15 best players don’t necessarily make for the best XV. Rugby, White argued, was a team game and he viewed the team as a collective.
Western Province, in beating the Sharks in the Currie Cup final in Durban, won it with a team effort. Individuals were inspirational, but it was the collective will of the team that saw them overturn a 12-3 deficit to win the title for the first time in 11 years.
Springbok and Bulls legend Victor Matfield, in summary of Province’s last minute semi-final win against the Lions a week earlier, suggested the 20m rolling maul was massive in the context of the team dynamic and that it could finally see Province turn individual potential into team reward.
There has always been a feeling among players up north that the delights of playing for Western Province (and the Stormers in Super Rugby) give players a celebrity like status in Cape Town and that the individual often stands taller than any team collective.
Brilliant individuals played for Province and the Stormers in the last decade but as a team they always fell short of success in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby. Something always seemed to be missing and Matfield felt the way this Province team worked for the win against the Lions and the way eight forwards worked in unison and refused to be beaten in the last minute of the game was something he had not seen from a Province team.
Just maybe, said Matfield, this is the start of something special.
Just maybe it is because the semi-final was not won on individual brilliance and neither was the final. Sure there inspiring individual performances, especially from lock Eben Etzebeth, but the most inspiring aspect was how the players believed in each other and played with the cohesion of players who believed that to win it they had to believe in the qualities of their team-mates.
Province were underdogs and not expected to win so they also had an advantage in that there wasn’t expectation. It does make a final easier when so few anticipate victory, even if so many hope for the victory.
The Sharks were expected to win. Their match 22 had superior pedigree. They demolished the Bulls in the semi-final and they were playing at home.
Their players also expected to win and if anything mentally they didn’t give the final the necessary respect. They will dispute this but they played like a team who believed the opposition wasn’t good enough to win. I’d argue their focus was wrongly on who they were playing instead of the fact that they were playing in a final.
The intensity and edge needed to compete and win a final wasn’t there from the Sharks. All the edge came from the visitors.
Supporters will ask how is it possible not to pitch for a final? It’s certainly not through a lack of desire. Experienced coaches always warn of the danger of players being too hyped in their preparation and mentally playing the game in the week and being drained come match day. This wasn’t one of those occasions because there wouldn’t have been doubt within the Sharks camp that they could be successful.
The Sharks coaches would have feared complacency, but no matter the caution a player has to believe he could lose if he is to ensure he doesn’t. I just don’t think it ever occurred to the Sharks players they could lose and sport continues to produces finals in which the overwhelming favourites get done in a one-off because the desire to win is not matched by the fear of potentially losing.
The better team on the day won and it’s hard to argue with a result that goes to the team that gets it right. Province got it right in the final. They deserve every ovation for the performance.
I also think Bok coach Heyneke Meyer and his selectors deserve applause for being bold enough to select London-based Saracens hooker Schalk Brits in the Bok squad.
It sends a positive message that if you play well enough you will get selected, regardless of where you are based or how old you are.
Brits has played well enough, especially in the last two seasons. Equally so the Toulouse-based former Bulls prop Gurthro Steenkamp, who is another deserving national call-up.