Pitching Up

Although the Cell C Sharks went down to DHL Western Province in the pool match back in September, they won’t be reading too much into that result as they prepare for the 2018 Currie Cup Final.

That match in Cape Town saw Western Province putting on 50 points in the Currie Cup pool match, but this is a different occasion altogether, explains Cell C Sharks assistant coach Nick Easter.

“We know what a quality side they are, how lethal they can be, we just have to be well-prepared and focused for the full 80 minutes,” he explains. “It was a big wake-up call at the time, we were probably stuttering through a few performances but we’re a bit more consistent now and know what it’s going to take to become champions.”

Calling that loss a wake-up call suggests that the players have kicked on since then.

“I think they definitely have, there is much more clarity in terms of what we want to achieve; our turn-over rate was too high in previous games, we were getting punished. Province exploited certain flaws in our systems and they say you always learn more when you lose.”

Given the way the team has shrugged off the aforementioned issues over the past few weeks, and against the Xerox Golden Lions in the Currie Cup semi-final at JONSSON KINGS PARK on Saturday, there’s every reason to suggest that they are peaking at just the right time.

“We’re very happy with where they are, the guys have taken a lot of ownership over the last month as well, more responsibility and starting to drive the standards in training and translating that into games. I thought the match against the Lions was a great work-out for us. That last 30 minutes, after we had played some tremendous rugby earlier and should have been far clearer on the scoreboard, saw the Lions force mistakes and they punished us for that.

“But the guys closed out the game tremendously well and showed not only great resilience and character, but also good composure under pressure.”

He believes that playing a tense, tight match like the one against the Lions was perfect preparation. The team was able to show what they are capable of, but when under pressure, knew how to weather the storm and then close out the result.

“Especially from the mental side of things, we understand that when the pressure come, we know how to deal with it. When you don’t quite have everything go your way, that’s when you come unstuck. I think we’ve had a good balance in this Currie Cup and we need to put it all together.”

There is no denying that Province have been the form side in the competition. They have gone through the entire tournament unbeaten and never seemed troubled, aside from the semi-final when the Blue Bulls played the best game of their season and came close to upsetting the applecart.

“Western Province are a very, very good side,” Easter admits. “They’ve scored a lot of points every game, including the game against us. They managed to put 30 points over the Bulls in their semi-final, four tries the previous week in just one half, in the wet. We know they score points which means we’re also going to have to keep them out for long periods of the game. But we’re also going to have to take our chances and execute well.”

Western Province’s semi-final near loss against the Blue Bulls, following a tournament of comprehensive wins without being overly troubled might create the perception that they are beatable, although Easter says the outcome of the final is all about pressure and execution.

“It’s a final now, the top two teams are in the game and the pressure is on. There is pressure on both sides, but I think both us and them will be better for it. Every team is fallible to some degree but it’s how you execute on the day and who gets on top in the physical exchanges.”

Although Province’s semi-final might have been the same wake-up call as they delivered to the Cell C Sharks, ultimately it’s all about us, explains Easter.

“At the end of the day, we can only control what we’re about. We know we didn’t really turn up there last time and they played very well.

“It’s all about how we prepare, both mentally and physically. About the game plan and turning up and playing for the full 80 minutes. It’s about our mindset, we can’t worry about them. We’re focused on ourselves.”