Western Province’s failure to make the Currie Cup semifinals is expected to become a rallying point as the different parties begin their sabre rattling ahead of a hotly contested presidential election at the union in December.
Gavin Rich writes in the Cape Argus that it is anticipated that Western Province Rugby Football Union president Tobie Titus will be opposed, and in the hours after WP beat the Lions 14-6 in their final league game, but fell short of their objective of winning by 19 points, there was already talk of shake-ups being on the way in an organisation many feel has been under-achieving.
But while WP performances, as the public face of the union, are sure to be used for leverage by Titus’ opponents, the real issues behind the unhappiness are probably elsewhere.
A sober analysis will show the reasons for WP’s failure in the domestic competition may lie at the feet of some of those now pushing for change.
For it was the executive members of the union who, when then-director of rugby Nick Mallett recommended the firing of Kobus van der Merwe as head coach in 2006, fought for the retention of the status quo.
Van der Merwe was eventually sacked 12 months later, which meant the changes that Mallett saw as necessary were held off for a year.
While Jean de Villiers is the first to admit it is unacceptable that a union like WP has gone two years in a row without contesting a semifinal, the situation also needs to be seen in the perspective the Province skipper offered on Saturday night.
“It takes time for a new coach to get used to his players and for those players to get used to the coach and his systems,” said De Villiers.
“We have definitely turned the corner and feel we are building towards something.
In many ways we feel we are in a similar situation now to where the Bulls were at a similar stage of Heyneke Meyer’s stint as coach there, the only difference being that we have more experience now in the playing ranks.
“This was the first year that the current coaching team worked with these players, and while we did not make the semifinals, it is highly encouraging that our full-strength side has now not lost a game since March, we have not been beaten in our last 12 games.
“Surely that shows we are headed in the right direction and that the coaches are on the right track?”
It needs to be remembered that WP’s senior professional coach Rassie Erasmus took over at a time when most of the contracting for this year had already been done.
He has consistently said that the time for his team to deliver would be in his second season, and that this one was all about establishing where the short-falls are, getting to know the systems and contracting his own squad.
Announcements on which new players will be coming to the Cape will be made over the next two months, but those who are working with the innovative Erasmus in preparing for 2009 are excited about what he has planned for the Stormers, who this year made a massive improvement in the Super 14 and went their last seven matches unbeaten.
The Currie Cup failures also need to be seen from the perspective that nine of the 14 games were played under-strength, which means it is not a proper test of the strength of the competing unions.
WP should have picked up a bonus point against the Kavaliers last week, and were under-par against Griquas, but in the full-strength phase the closest they came to being beaten was against the Lions, where they still won by eight points.
WP tried to rush things too much in that match, but from an early stage it was apparent that though Province are considerably stronger than the Lions, who are in the semis, they were going to struggle against a team well equipped to play negative rugby.
Ironically, at a time when everyone is rightly pinpointing the defeat to the Valke as the moment it went wrong for WP during the under-strength phase, the narrow win by the Blue Bulls against those opponents at Loftus last Friday showed what can happen when you play a team like the Valke with a second string combination, as WP were forced to do in Brakpan.
What really caught out WP this season was the emphasis placed on the tough opening three game sequence against the Sharks, Bulls and Cheetahs.
WP won two of those three games, a feat which exceeded initial expectations, and this led them to be complacent when they went to Kimberley for the next match, when they were surprised by the physicality of Griquas.Tweet