Johannesburg - Western Province are one down after just one game in the Currie Cup, and that will be a new experience for coach John Dobson, who went through the Supersport Challenge unbeaten and hadn't experienced an unhappy moment near a rugby field since long before Christmas.
According to the SuperSport website, however, there is no sign of any panic emanating from the WP ranks, and neither should there be. The 30-17 defeat to the Free State Cheetahs last Sunday in Bloemfontein was in an away game to a good team that are the reigning champions and who haven’t lost at home since 2015. The game also wasn’t nearly as one-sided as the final scoreline suggests, and the Cheetahs really won it because of excellent defence and better conversion of opportunities.
Ultimately though the biggest reason why the loss shouldn’t have set off any alarm bells was because of the composition of the team that played the champions.
Dobson didn’t field several players who had played regularly in Super Rugby because they needed freshening up and the side was a hybrid between the Stormers reserve bench and the WP Supersport Challenge side.
It was understandable then that the players and combinations struggled to find each other, and with defence being an area that requires particularly strong teamwork and understanding, it will explain why the Cape side let in some soft tries.
Dobson will be confident of the defence tightening as Province get deeper into the competition, something that should hold true for most of the unions that have to go through a transition period from Super Rugby to Currie Cup.
WP host the Pumas on Saturday and should select a strong side ahead of their big game against the Blue Bulls the following week, and they should have been encouraged by how strong the forward effort was in Bloemfontein.
The scrumming in particular was formidable at stages of that game against a Super Rugby pack as was the driving.
What they need to work on though is the conversion of the opportunities that they created, and assistant coach Dawie Snyman says completing the last pass and being more clinical is a big focus for the team this week.
“We want to create opportunities and finish those opportunities and there were times in the Free State game where we were one pass away from scoring but were unable to finish off,” said Snyman.
“That’s definitely what we want to work on. Converting our opportunities. What we really need is playing time together. As our first outing together and not having had a lot of time to prepare, it was understandable that we struggled a bit for rhythm. That is something that will come right the more we play together and I am sure we can fix it quickly.”