No pressure on Province

JON CARDINELLI writes that a young and depleted Western Province team is likely to lose this Saturday. It’s a probable outcome that shouldn’t be met with the typical public lament.

Neither the Stormers nor Western Province have won a title of substance since 2001. It’s a fact that’s shaped public expectation ahead of every subsequent campaign.

When the Stormers fail in the Super Rugby competition, the inevitable public fall-out is soon followed by a greater sense of expectation in the Currie Cup. The pressure builds with each failed campaign, as does the expectation. The situation is rarely taken into account.

I’m not suggesting that we should accept the Stormers and WP are not good enough to win a title. For a top franchise or union to go 12 years without winning a big trophy… it’s indefensible.

This is the only conclusion one can reach when considering the bigger picture. However, you also have to accept that there will be seasons where the Cape side is weakened and depleted, and so cannot be expected to go all the way. And 2012 has been one of those seasons.

If one is to consider the situation, the Stormers overachieved in this year’s Super Rugby competition. Their situation was so dire that they were asking club players to start in their back row towards the end of the tournament.

In spite of the injuries, some of these to key personnel with international experience, the Stormers were able to finish at the top of the Super Rugby log. Yes, they played their semi-final at Newlands, but they were always going to be the underdogs fielding second- and third-choice provincial players against a Sharks side stacked with Springboks.

When the Cape public lifted itself out of yet another period of depression, they grew optimistic. Surely WP would set things right in the Currie Cup?

But national call-ups and further injuries continued to undermine the Cape crusade. Schalk Burger, Nizaam Carr, and Nick Koster were always considered doubtful to return in the domestic competition, and it didn’t help when the likes of Dewaldt Duvenage, Siya Kolisi, Rynhardt Elstadt and Kurt Coleman succumbed to season-ending injuries. Then returning Boks of the calibre of Jean de Villiers, Andries Bekker and Tiaan Liebenberg were ruled out of the Currie Cup play-offs.

When you add up all of these losses, how can you realistically expect WP to beat the Sharks in Durban?

I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m merely stating that it’s unlikely considering Province’s handicap. It would be a miracle if they could pull it off, but it wouldn’t be a disaster if they did not.

You have to give Allister Coetzee and his coaches credit for the manner in which they have responded to the challenge this year. The Stormers won the South African conference trophy and topped the Super Rugby log in spite of crippling injuries to key players. A young WP side has been further depleted over the course of the Currie Cup, and yet they are still through to the final. It speaks volumes for the team culture and structures.

I don’t think the guts as well as the collective clout of this Province side will be sufficient this Saturday. My statement is made in the context of who they are up against: a Sharks side that is stacked with players that have not only won the Currie Cup twice in the past four years, but also players that have won greater accolades at international level.

There is individual brilliance in this Sharks side, but there’s also a strong sense of unity. And it would follow that a united Bok-laden Sharks team playing in Durban would be too strong for a united-yet-understrength WP side.

People like to look at the newspaper and see the world in black and white, not in shades of grey. Teams are either excellent or rubbish, individuals are either heroes or villains. I expect that the Cape newspapers will run the same old headlines on Sunday, and there will be very little perspective. The Sharks will be heroes, and WP will be villains.

And yet, perspective demands that we see Province’s task as immense. The Sharks have all the advantages and if they were to lose, it would be regarded as a choke. For WP, however, a loss could not be aligned with the disappointments of yesteryear, even though it will go down in history as yet another lost final.

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