Dobson casts doubt on Lions
REACTION: Western Province coach John Dobson fired the first broadside in what could be an interesting build-up to a must-win Currie Cup match.
The Golden Lions host a much-improved Province team at Ellis Park on Friday, with both outfits hovering perilously outside the play-off positions and just four rounds of league action remaining.
The defending-champion Lions are coming off a demoralising 17-31 loss to the Bulls, while WP handed the table-topping Sharks their first defeat (34-27) of the season.
The Sharks (on 20 points after five matches) and the Cheetahs (19 after four) still set the pace. The Bulls have moved past the Lions into the third spot (15 after five), with Griquas (14 after four) currently in the final play-off position.
The Lions and Province are both on 12 points from four outings - making this coming Friday's showdown crucial for both teams.
Dobson said the Bulls' victory has cast some doubt on the Lions' ability to retain their title with a host of (nine) players on Springbok duty and another key member of their successful Super Rugby squad already playing in Japan.
"For the first time in a long time they have some doubt," Dobson said when asked about the trip up to the Highveld this week.
"The Bulls deserved to win that game in every department," the WP coach said, adding: "Hopefully there is a lot of doubt."
Dobson admitted that Ellis Park is a tough place to win, but felt they have momentum on their side.
"Our biggest issue with this team was confidence," he said, adding: "We knew we had the talent, but the guys were just not used to losing. Even against the Kings we weren't good.
"It was just about getting confidence. Now it is a very happy change room."
Bulls coach Nollis Marais has a slightly different take on the Lions' prospects of getting back into the play-off race.
"I believe the top teams will come through [and reach the play-offs]," Marais said, adding: "The Lions are a good team."
The Lions mentor, Ackermann, admitted that "collectively" as a team, they just didn't pitch up.
He said they made it easy for the Bulls.
"We were like a side that played for the first time," a bitterly disappointed Ackermann said, adding that he never expected his team to drop their standards so much.
"We are not down in the dumps, but we are disappointed."
He said the Lions don't mind losing, it is how they lost.
"In Super Rugby, we made it so tough for teams to score against us and in this game it was easy," he said, adding that all three the Bulls' five-pointers were 'soft' tries.
"It wasn't a good enough performance. [It] started with the kick-off [where we conceded] three points and from then on we just never played."
he spoke of the high error count - with handling errors and line-out turnover - saying the team lacked accuracy.
"We have a lot of hard work if we want to turn it [our season] around.
"The Bulls were desperate, you could see it in their approach - they fought for every inch."
He said the Lions are not making it easy for themselves.
"It looks like the fact that there was no break between Super Rugby [where the Lions played in the Final] and the Currie Cup is beginning to catch us.
"The Bulls had four weeks to train, while we were involved in Super Rugby play-offs and that is an advantage.
"There is no fluency and cohesion in our game.
"However, that it not an excuse. If we want to play against these sides we have to pitch up on the day."
He said the players are not making selection meetings any easier for him.
"They create doubt about who should be given chances. There were players who were not selected, but they had played well the previous week. Now, who do you give a chance?.
"You also can't keep making a bunch of changes every week."
Ackermann believes that his team will have to regroup very quickly and put in the hard yards on the training field.
"It looks like our set pieces have gone [lost shape] a bit. The scrums we attacked from were not so stable.
"If you think about the end of the first half, the scrum collapsed and that was easy to defend. In the second half, we had another opportunity and the ball came out at the back of a scrum, they [Blue Bulls] kicked it downfield and we ended up in our half.
"Now it looks like our set phases are struggling and even if we have the ball, normally we would have created something.
"It looks like our decision making has gone a bit, so we've got a lot of work to do on the training field," said Ackermann.
Additional reporting by Josh Isaacson from Loftus Versfeld