Western Province will aim to ‘up the tempo’ when they face the Blue Bulls in the semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
On 5 August, the Bulls put six tries past WP in their 45-26 victory at Loftus. In the end, the scoreline flattered Province, who scored the bulk of their points after the Bulls had secured the four-try bonus point and the result.
The Bulls have every reason to feel confident ahead of the semi-final showdown with their traditional foes. Meanwhile, WP have every reason to doubt their chances after a disappointing league campaign that culminated in an unconvincing 30-28 win against Boland.
On Thursday, WP coach John Dobson said that his charges have put the disappointment of the league phase behind them. WP have adopted a new mindset in the wake of their qualification for the playoffs, and that mindset should be reflected in their approach at Loftus on Saturday.
‘We’ve played about four or five quarter-finals in a row,’ Dobson said. ‘Now that we’ve qualified, things may change. There won’t be that fear of failure [and not qualifying]. We should see a different mindset from the team on Saturday.
‘We’ve got nothing to lose, so we’re going to go out there and play and attack. If we go into our shells and worry about what the Bulls can do to us, we will lose.
'This is one of those games where you have to be fearless. In the last game against Boland, you probably wouldn’t look to force those passes or push to create something. This week, we should see more of a push to make those passes stick.’
Both Dobson and captain Chris van Zyl conceded that the execution of WP’s kicking game in the previous game at Loftus – from the execution of the kicks to the quality of the chasing – was ‘embarrassing’.
Dobson reiterated the need to handle the Bulls’ kicking game in the coming semi-final. Province should be prepared for an intense aerial battle.
That’s not to say that WP will always respond in kind. Dobson feels that his men need to play to their own strengths and away from those of the Bulls.
‘We have to be prepared for a lot of contestable kicks. Ultimately it comes down to stopping the Bulls’ momentum. We know what’s coming.
'They have a very good kicking game and are devastating from turnover ball. Those wingers of theirs can punish you. This Bulls side is playing a hybrid game at the moment.
‘We’ve spoken a lot about tempo and how we want to control that at Loftus. If you look at how the All Blacks upped the tempo [in the recent Test against the Boks at Kings Park, with a 57-15 win for the visitors] they had a lot of success when they took quick lineouts.
‘At the same time, it comes down to decision-making,’ added Dobson. ‘We need to know when to speed up the game, and when to slow it down. Sometimes it may be wiser to keep the ball in the scrum or ruck and milk the penalty.’
The WP coach said that the addition of an extra player to the squad – thanks to a change to the regulations ahead of the semi-finals – will help his side.
‘Some might ask why we weren’t allowed to pick 23-man squads right at the start of the season,’ Dobson said. ‘It really does help to have an extra forward in the squad when you’re playing at altitude. It means that you have five forwards on the bench and that only three of your forwards in the squad need to play a full 80 minutes.
‘I’m confident that this team is fit enough to go the distance. We’ve won in the second half of the last three games we played at altitude. We may be the underdogs, but we are well prepared for this type of clash.’
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