WP continue to gather momentum
Marcel Brache was the star of a 29-22 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein that propelled Western Province to the top of the Absa Currie Cup log with half the league phase of the domestic competition completed.
WP laid down a marker for their new attacking game against the Blue Bulls in Cape Town seven days earlier, but with the Cheetahs winning more ball than the Bulls did, Province were this time subjected to a proper test of whether their new intent might mean sacrificing something from their usually impeccable defensive game.
On the evidence of this match, they have nothing to worry about. While WP moved the ball impressively through the tackle and Nic Groom underlined why coach Allister Coetzee has been comparing him to a young Ricky January by sniping around the fringes, the defence was rock solid.
Perhaps the only blemish was when Davon Raubenheimer was allowed to slip through on the way to creating the Cheetahs’ only try.
The hard-running Cheetahs certainly had enough ball to play with during the middle stages of the game, and again during an impressive sustained multi-phased attack after the hooter that lasted nearly four minutes. But the WP defence didn’t flinch.
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It is however inside centre Brache who has been the real breath of fresh air in the new-look WP team.
His passing through the tackle, his decision-making, and his penchant for creating space and opportunities for the players around him, has been becoming more influential as the season has progressed – and in this match, it was impossible to ignore.
But it was Brache’s steal down the wing to grab an excellent Demetri Catrakilis cross-kick and go over to score near the posts that was ultimately the difference between two well-matched teams who provided a great advertisement for the domestic competition.
Brache’s try came 14 minutes from the end and capped a great second half from WP, who looked to be fading towards the end of the first half, after making a strong start.
The match-clinching try was not Brache’s only contribution to the WP haul of points.
It was he who set up the first try as he moved the ball deftly through the tackle as Province used the short side from a recycle after the Cheetahs had made a mess of the kick-off.
Brache’s clever play created the modicum of space that Gio Aplon needed to kick ahead and chase down to make it 7-0 to the visitors after less than two minutes.
Skipper Deon Fourie was again outstanding, and although opposite number Heinrich Brussow made a strong return to top rugby after injury and should certainly be considered by beleaguered Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer for the home leg of The Rugby Championship, Fourie played a strong role in ensuring that Brussow’s comeback was not a winning one.
PINPOINT LINEOUT THROWING
Young hooker Scarra Ntubeni was again pinpoint with his lineout throwing and all over the place in the tight loose throughout the 80 minutes, and although they often struggled in the scrums, the pack would have ended the game feeling well pleased with their effort as a unit.
It wasn’t the dominant influence it was against the Bulls, but the driving was again impressive, and the likes of Don Armand are coming more into their own at this level with every outing.
The early pressure exerted by WP did not last, and the Cheetahs came back well in the first half, and were full value for their six-point halftime lead (19-13).
Their try was a gem, Raubenheimer breaking through impressively as they ran the ball down the line before passing to Lappies Labuschagne, who had the presence of mind to pass to Sarel Pretorius as he was held up just short of the line.
WP’s momentum was halted in the first half by breakdown and scrumming infringements that led to penalties, and Cheetahs wing Nico Scheepers, as he did at Kings Park seven days earlier, turned in a five-star goalkicking performance.
His only miss was a long-range effort with seven minutes to go that might have ensured that WP played out the last minutes with a greater sense of anxiousness than they did.
WP’s Catrakilis was however equal to anything that Scheepers could do with the boot, and next year’s Southern Kings flyhalf certainly can’t be faulted for temperament.
The Brache try had to be referred to TMO Gerrie Coetzee, who earlier had ruled against what looked a good try to WP prop Steven Kitshoff.
Both calls looked marginal, so it would probably be fair to say that the fact one of them went Province’s way meant that justice was done.
Based on their strong second-half performance, where they camped for the most part in Cheetahs territory, the new Currie Cup front-runners deserved their win.
DHL Western Province – Tries: Gio Aplon, Marcel Brache. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis (2). Penalties: Catrakilis (5).
Toyota Free State Cheetahs – Try: Sarel Pretorius. Conversion: Nico Scheepers. Penalties: Scheepers (5).