Did Sharks have a spy in WP camp?
Did Sharks have a spy in WP camp?SHARE
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee admitted his team was tactically outmaneuvered by the Sharks in the Currie Cup Final.
However, the WP mentor also hinted that they may have had some 'inside' knowledge that helped the Durban outfit score a 33-19 win at Newlands at the weekend.
The win, the Sharks' seventh Currie Cup triumph overall and their first since 2010, is the third year in succession that the underdog triumphed in the grand finale – much like Province did in Durban last year and the Golden Lions the year before.
Coetzee, although gracious in defeat, not only hinted that somebody in the Shark camp had more knowledge than they should have, but also suggested the Sharks pushed the envelope on defence and at the breakdown.
Using words such as "big disappointment" and "giving credit to the Sharks", Coetzee said the visitors were outstanding.
"I have to compliment them, they were tactically very good," the WP mentor said.
"They took us out of our comfort zone, in terms of dealing with those chip-kicks behind the ruck.
"It is obviously somebody who knows a lot about our defence system."
Coetzee admitted that the Reds successfully employed similar tactics against his Stormers team in a Super Rugby match a couple of years ago.
"The way they applied the pressure, not playing at all and just kicking it away, coming off the line hard and disrupting the breakdown – it was a very effective plan," he said.
He dismissed the notion that there was even a hint of complacency in his side.
"We were aware of the fact [that complacency could be an issue], we were there [being underdogs] last year when no one gave us a chance and we won it.
"We spoke about that," he said, adding: "While you the favourite, you got to think like an underdog.
"It is not a question of not having had the desire."
He said a combination of the Sharks tactical superiority and WP's high error rate resulted in the Cape Town team's first loss of the season.
And a painful loss in the most important game of the year it was.
"It was one of our worst games of the season," Coetzee said.
He also spoke of having been beaten in the set pieces and their ill-discipline was another issue raised by the WP coach.
"We gave away too many soft penalties. We [were forced to] play catch-up rugby [after going 0-10 down inside the first 10 minutes], but every time we scored, at the restart we conceded a penalty.
"That just nullified our comeback all the time.
"We were comprehensively beaten by a Sharks team where everything went for them and they played well."
He said while his team attempted to "play", the Sharks were willing to kick the ball away and just defend – a tactic successfully employed by Province for years.
"[I] must say, this is quite an interesting tactic in finals," he said, adding that the Sharks were pushing the envelope at the breakdown.
"You will never get penalised 20 times if you go offside, if you [hit] hard at the breakdown," Coetzee said, adding: "The ref won't penalise you 20 times and the tactic worked [for the Sharks].
"We felt we got suffocated and they strangled us."
Asked if he thought the Sharks should have been penalised more often the coach said: I wouldn't say he didn't penalise them enough, [but] if you look at any team that win games, concede most penalties, kick the most and make the most tackles – they normally come away with a win.
"Statistically that is the case and in this game did you guys [the media] feel they were offside at stages in the game?
"I am not blaming the ref at any stage, it was just a very good tactic they employed. We couldn't get the go-forward and they were hard at the breakdown.
"We played them twice this year and they were never that hard at the breakdown – that is something we didn't expect and they didn't just put one guy, they put two, three or four guys in at the breakdown."
He said the Sharks flooded the breakdown and tackle areas with all their "big bruisers" – the likes of Willem Alberts, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Bismarck du Plessis – to make sure they come off the line hard and win those collisions there and stop us from getting momentum."
It was a high-risk, high reward approach employed by the Sharks.
"There is always big risk that come with [employing] new tactics in a Final, something you haven't done the entire season," the Province mentor said.
"However, when it is effective like in this game, their suffocate and strangle policy worked by rushing us and trapping us behind the gainline and flooding that breakdown.
"That actually caught us unawares.
"It is a good tactic to kick the ball away, stuff up the breakdown, don't play any rugby, don't worry about the penalties and it worked for them and we couldn't handle that."
Coetzee said Sharks scrumhalf Charl McLeod, in what was probably his best game of the year, was very good with those little kicks.
By Jan de Koning, at Newlands