The problems at Western Province rugby are layered, and everyone involved needs to step up and start taking accountability writes James Dalton.
I never want to give players a back door when they haven’t been doing their job, nor do I believe the coaches should get one either. But when we look at Western Province, let’s consider the multiple issues at play.
Zelt Marais inherited a mess, he did not create it, and in the most absurd year WP now also face their final year in Newlands. There is no way that the impeding departure from Province’s home of rugby, a stadium with such a colourful history and wonderful stories, does not play on the mind of the coaching staff and players and add to the uncertainty around the brand of Western Province rugby at the moment.
But a team or province’s brand is ultimately built on their performances, and Western Province’s performances don’t speak of a strong brand. The current side is also damaging the strong historic brand of Western Province rugby with every poor decision and lacklustre performance . There is a lack of creativity and an inadequacy in adapting to a game when it is going against their structure. Playing as Western Province in this year’s Currie Cup, as well as the Stormers in Super Rugby unlocked, the Cape Townian players have looked unconditioned and uninterested.
Where is the accountability from the players themselves, and where is the accountability from Dobson and Co? I have a lot of respect for Dobbo, but he is simply not getting it right this season. The performances have decreased in quality since Super Rugby Unlocked, and there seems to be continued poor player selection and management, and a refusal to look beyond a game plan that revolves around simply a strong scrum. I’ve said it time and time again, but when the Stormers’ scrum is negated, they are unable to adapt or produce anything else in. There is a lack of fluidity in the backline, poor cohesion between backs and forwards and the players are not conditioned. Dobbo also needs to start putting loyalty to one side and dropping players who are out of form. Both Damian Willemse and Herschel Jantjies are bright young talents who have shown glimpses of what could be in the future, but neither have been good this year. Their continued lack of form calls for a rest on their half and an opportunity for other players – they can only learn from the experience.
Then there is captain Kolisi, whose best performances have been off the field this year. Kolisi has been nowhere near the inspirational captain who led the Boks to World Cup victory in 2019, and when he hasn’t been injured this year, his performances haven’t ranked among the best loosed forwards in SA. Rumours now that Kolisi, among other marquee players, may be leaving Province amidst MVM Holdings’ withdrawal from talks with WP and apparent interest in the Sharks, also do nothing to inspire confidence in him as someone with a current interest in the state of Western Province Rugby.
When looking to the other players, the seven Springboks in the Stormers side need to remember that it was an entire squad that won the World Cup, not just the seven of them. Their performances suggest a complacency that views it otherwise, and they need to remember that none of them are guaranteed a Springbok spot in 2021 if their performances can’t warrant one.
The dark cloud that hangs over Western Province Rugby can be fixed only with accountability, from all the moving parts of the union. And this accountability is needed in order to ensure that a fresh start in a new stadium sees the Western Province brand and emblem regain and grow in strength from next year, and not be left to lie in the rubble of Newlands, becoming simply history. Administrators need stop the off field antics from creeping their way into the on field performances, Dobbo and his coaching staff need to make some tough decisions in selection, and go back to the basics of conditioning and discipline and on-field adaptability, and the players need to get their heads right, get their bodies right and start playing for their union. Because as soon as Springbok selection was not an option this year, players’ domestic form dropped, and that is simply not good enough in a country with such a rich history of domestic rugby.