Their big ABSA Currie Cup win over the Cheetahs may not lead to domestic success for Western Province, but it did tell us a couple of things about a union that some people have mistakenly assumed to be in a crisis.
Firstly, WP did not play particularly well in this match, and yet, the winning margin of 18 points was a comprehensive one against a team that had not lost at home in this competition since August 2006. Which tells us that had the entire Currie Cup season been played at full-strength, WP would not be lagging in fifth position, and would be nearer first or second.
Secondly, an away win like this one, particularly when not playing well, is a reminder that Province do have the resources to remain a strong threat when they fit back into the full blue uniforms of the Stormers for next year’s Super 14.
For ultimately that is the perspective that has to be kept in mind, the Currie Cup, much though every player wants to win it, is in its current form not much more than a building block for the Super 14. And you only have to see how seldom Canterbury have won the New Zealand NPC in comparison to how often the Crusaders have won the Super 14 to understand why I say that.
Gavin Rich writes in his Superrugby column that very rarely have Canterbury won the NPC in a season where they have also excelled in the Super 14, and this is a trend shared by the South African teams. The Stormers finished second on the Super 12 log in 1999, but came 12th in a 14 team Currie Cup, when most of the players who had done well for them in Super rugby were away playing for the Boks in the World Cup.
In 2001 the Sharks made the Super 14 final, but they did not win the Currie Cup, and ditto for the Bulls last season.
A look back at WP performances during the SANZAR era will show that the team’s lowly position on the log should have been anticipated from the moment that new Springbok coach Peter de Villiers made it clear that he was going to draw heavily on Province personnel in his first season in charge.
He called up no less than 13 WP players to his first training camp, and the union has provided the bulk of the national squad ever since. The last time this happened during a Currie Cup season was in the afore-mentioned 1999 season – a spectacular success at Super 12 level, a disaster at Currie Cup level.
Yet a few months after that Currie Cup season ended, the Stormers had another good season in the Super 14. They never made the semi-finals this time, but they were only just edged out into fifth position, with the difference from the previous year being the absence of the injured Bob Skinstad. Later that year WP won the Currie Cup, and they went on to do it again the following season.
Up until last Saturday the WP season ran a remarkably similar course for the Cape union as the 1999 one did – relative Super 14 success leads to Bok selections, which leads to unsatisfactory results during the under-strength phase.
It’s easy to figure out why this is. When WP played the Sharks at Newlands last month, the visitors had no less than 12 players in their starting team that would be first choices at Super 14 level. At best, WP had five. It was a similar story in the previous match against the Lions, where just Joe van Niekerk was missing from the team that played in the Super 14.
With the Super 14 being the big competition all the provinces work towards, and the real money spinner in the professional age, this situation should advantage WP in that it has meant that youngsters have been blooded who should benefit from playing against almost full-strength Super 14 sides.
Former Bishops sensation Nick Koster, still just 19 years of age, leads a stunning array of young players who will be thankful for the experience they have gained now if called upon during next year’s Super 14.
In the early stages, before he was injured, flanker Pieter Myburgh was a revelation, while the absence of the injured JD Moller has given Wicus Blaauw the opportunity to establish himself as a useful loosehead. The 20-year-old tighthead JC Kritzinger, who is equally at home at loosehead, also used the under-strength phase to gain invaluable experience.
With it being no secret that Erasmus has a couple of big name signings lined up for next year, all of this points to the dawning of a time of plenty, and not the drought that some seem to think is represented by WP’s current mediocre position on the log.Tweet