A potential solution for Western Province’s ongoing halfback troubles could lie in bringing former scrumhalf Bolla Conradie back to the union as a consultant, writes DYLAN JACK.
As the fallout from Province’s 22-20 loss to a 14-man Vodacom Bulls side at Newlands has continued, the performances of halfback pair Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse have come under scrutiny.
Of course, plenty of credit does have to be given to the Bulls themselves. Their victory says so much about the hunger, desire and winning mentality that Jake White and his coaching staff have instilled in the players.
However, given the territorial dominance that Province enjoyed this past weekend, it would have been expected that they would have had more than a five-point lead at half time, especially considering the Bulls spent a large period of the first half inside their own 22-metre area.
Even if Province had slotted a late penalty or scored a try from a lineout five metres from the Bulls tryline, it would be amiss for them to ignore that the performances of their halfbacks are a concern.
Now, Jantjies was comfortably both the Stormers’ and Province’s best scrumhalf last year and ended 2019 as a World Cup winner and the Springboks’ No 2 scrumhalf. There are few scrumhalves in the country who bring the same zip around the breakdown and quickness of service. He is still a fantastic player, even if he hasn’t quite hit the same standards of last year.
Willemse, meanwhile, put in one of his best performances as a flyhalf just three weeks ago as he scored 15 points – including a long-range drop goal – to steer the Stormers to victory over the Cheetahs. To suggest he isn’t growing in this position is wrong. Inconsistencies are going to be part of his growth as a flyhalf. Even Handre Pollard was not the finished article at 22 years old, even if developmentally he was ahead of where Willemse is now.
The key to getting the best out of both and refining their play, could lie in replicating something the Bulls have done to get the best out of their scrumhalves. Bringing in Fourie du Preez in a consultancy role to mentor Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier – as well as the younger scrumhalves at the union – has been a masterstroke.
When Jake White joined the Bulls as director of rugby, he made no secret of the fact he believed consultants could add immense value should they have a passion to impart specialised skills.
‘We use Henning Gericke as a mental coach. So, yes, consultants are important,’ White commented in episode six of the ‘No Holds Barred’ series on the Bulls app.
‘[South African vision coach] Sherylle Calder – not only by myself at the World Cup – she was used by England in the last World Cup. So there is a definite role for specialists in certain fields.
‘Will I be using them? Of course I will. I will be using specialists who I think are important. Consultants who I think are important.
‘One guy that comes to mind is Fourie du Preez. I think that Fourie, even though he doesn’t want to coach, can play a massive role as a consultant to imparting his knowledge to guys like Ivan [van Zyl] and Embrose [Papier] and maybe even the U21 scrumhalves we have in our system.’
Bringing Bolla Conradie, who played comfortably close to 100 games for Western Province and the Stormers, back to the union could have a similar impact. Unlike Du Preez, Conradie has been actively involved in coaching over the past few years at university and club rugby levels. Conradie has served as head coach of the Bellville RFC 1st XV, but most noticeably he was assistant coach to the late Chester Williams in helping the University of the Western Cape earn their promotion to the Varsity Cup.
He also has a previous relationship with Herschel Jantjies as the two worked together during UWC’s Varsity Shield win in 2017, when Jantjies started to put himself on the radar for higher honours.
Conradie is still currently contracted to UWC and will continue in his role as assistant coach under Paul Treu, and has recently been brought into the WP academy as an assistant coach. With grassroots rugby competitions only set to start next year, there is time and space to negotiate for him to spend a couple of days a week at the Province High-Performance centre.
Province might not feel the impact of such a decision immediately, but it certainly cannot hurt to bring someone with Conradie’s IP and experience in to help their halfbacks refine their play.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images