WP hang on to remain unbeaten
Western Province avenged their narrow defeat in last year’s Absa Currie Cup semifinal by edging out the Blue Bulls 15-12 in a tight tussle dominated by defensive systems in front of a Newlands full house.
The win means WP go back to the top of the log and they remain unbeaten, and with the Cheetahs coming unstuck against the Lions earlier in the afternoon, it means WP and the Sharks, who clash in Durban next weekend, now have a comfortable buffer at the top of the Currie Cup log.
It wasn’t in any sense a pretty performance but by winning a close one WP should feel that they took a significant step forward as they have made a habit of losing the tight games over the past few seasons.
One such occasion was when they lost in the last minutes to the Brumbies when they played as the Stormers in the Super 14 earlier this year, and then of course there was that semifinal, which Morne Steyn won for the Bulls with a crucial late penalty.
This time though the boot was on the other foot in every sense of the word, with WP flyhalf Willem de Waal doing the Steyn trick by administering crucial blows to the Bulls challenge with some well taken penalty kicks.
None was more significant in this regard than the one he kicked from just inside the Bulls half as the match headed into the final quarter with the Bulls, after recovering from a first half in which they had to defend almost throughout, starting to look like they were finally getting it together.
WP led 9-6 at that stage, but you could almost sense the injection of confidence it gave the team to see De Waal’s kick fly true into a strong wind. Jacques-Louis Potgieter had an attempt from almost an identical position a short while later, but he missed.
WP led 6-3 at half-time but the Bulls would have gone to the break in a heartened mood as Province had enjoyed massive dominance in the battle for possession as well as the territorial tussle.
That the game was as close as it was came mainly down to WP’s inability to convert a marked first half superiority into points. WP also played a part in making it more difficult for themselves by repeatedly eschewing kickable penalties, something which enabled the Bulls to stay in the game when a couple of three pointers might have put the necessary daylight between WP and the visitors.
Full marks to the Bulls defence for the way they held WP at bay in the first half, and there is no denying the extra motivation that seems to inspire the Pretoria team when they come up against their Cape foes.
WP’s defence, as it has been all year, was also good when the Bulls came back into it in the second half, and on this evidence no-one will argue with Springbok coach Peter de Villiers’s contention that the two best defensive coaches in the country are WP’s Jacques Nienaber and the Bulls’ John McFarland.
What made the Bulls’ ability to keep WP in range in the first half even more remarkable was the mess that Province made of the Bulls’ lineout ball in the first half. The WP scrum was also the more dominant unit in the first 40, and generally it was WP who had all the momentum.
But it must have frustrated them when they were unable to score points when Gerhard van den Heever was off the field for 10 minutes after being carded for a high tackle.
WP were never headed in the game, and after a high octane start in which they took the ball through several phases, they profited from a penalty that De Waal was able to convert from almost in front to make it 3-0.
The wind came and went during the game, and seemed at times to push from the side as much as downfield, but WP definitely had it at their backs in the beginning. Their territorial advantage resulted in another De Waal penalty as the game headed towards the 15th minute, and even though Potgieter drew it back to 6-3, it looked then like WP were going to run up a handy lead by the break.
As an illustration of the WP advantage, they had the benefit of the put-in at five separate set-pieces inside the Bulls 22 metre area in the first 34 minutes, but they were not able to convert any of them.
But although they did almost all the attacking, Province led by just three at half-time, and the Bulls might have felt they had the advantage.
When Potgieter equalised shortly after half-time it looked even more ominous for the hosts, but that was when Province dug deep and showed that maybe this team has grown some championship qualities.
Western Province 15 – Penalties: Willem de Waal 5.
Blue Bulls 12 – Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter 4.