Dobson: WP are ‘rank outsiders’ against Bulls

Playing his side up as the underdogs in Friday’s night’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Bulls, Western Province coach John Dobson says they are nevertheless eager to have a proper go at their opponents in Pretoria. DYLAN JACK reports.

Western Province qualified for the Currie Cup playoffs by the skin of their teeth after scoring two late tries to secure a bonus-point victory over the second-placed Sharks in Durban this past Saturday.

That victory was enough to get them over the line and into the semi-finals at the expense of the Pumas, who agonisingly missed out on a playoff spot by a single log point.

However, Province will face another level of challenge against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. Jake White’s team are the defending champions and won eight of their 12 fixtures to finish top of the table for the second season in a row.

Speaking during an online media conference on Thursday, Dobson explained how his charges are mentally dealing with the pressure of a semi-final, saying that they are looking at it from a positive aspect.

“Look, in terms of the competition it is a must-win game. But that’s how it’s been for us for a while now, so we are used to it,” Dobson said. “I think there is genuine excitement, rather than trepidation or feeling the pressure.

“We talked as a group that we are not planning for trying to get through to a final. We just want to play with the same sort of intensity and spirit that we played last week. The rest will look after itself from there.”

Dobson explained that he wanted to see his team play with a bit of freedom on Friday night, without the mental pressure of expectation of going through to a final.

“Shackles off is a good way of putting it. We were under pressure in this tournament through fixtures. That log changed very dramatically when points were allocated [due to Covid-19 affected matches]. That’s the reason we were under pressure the whole time.

“The game’s been moved to a Friday so the Bulls can get ready for a final. We are not thinking like that. We just want to produce the same sort of intense performance. If we can play the same way, the scoreboard may well be in our favour.

“We haven’t viewed it as we have to beat the Bulls to get into the final. Nobody is giving us a chance tomorrow and that’s the truth. So, we don’t want to put ourselves under that sort of pressure. We are playing against a really, really good team. The best team in the country. We know we are rank outsiders.

“We are not sort of lying here petrified that we are going to get knocked out, because that’s what is expected. We are genuinely excited about trying to pull off something special.”

Province will be without key players Evan Roos and Warrick Gelant for the match, despite the latter being named on an extended bench.

Dobson explained that with both players experiencing injury niggles, he would rather not risk either and would prefer to have them fit and firing for their opening match of the inaugural United Rugby Championship against Benetton in a couple of weeks’ time.

Kick-off for Friday’s semi-final is at 7pm.

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Dylan Jack