Courageous 14-man WP triumph at Loftus
For the second time in the space of less than a day a South African team was reduced to 14 men by having a player sent from the field but unlike the Springboks, DHL Western Province were able to hang on to score an important 29-18 win over the Vodacom Blue Bulls at Loftus on Saturday.
When Michael Rhodes was sent from the field by referee Marius Jonker for cynically and deliberately trampling an opponent underfoot after 34 minutes, it looked like tickets for WP.
Although they had been dominating the game up until then, they were only ahead 13-6 at the time.
But instead of shrinking from the challenge they responded with a brilliant try that enabled them to go into the break 20-6 up.
Even that never looked like being enough when early in the second half the Bulls scored to draw the deficit back to just seven points.
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The Bulls were using their big runners to thrust across the advantage line at that point, and it looked like a matter of time before WP's lead would be hauled in.
But it never happened. Instead Province dug deep, halted the blue tidal wave with some outstanding defensive work, and then also ensured they were able to use the possession that did come their way to play the game in the Bulls’ half.
Let it be said at the outset that WP only had themselves to blame for making it hard for themselves.
This wasn’t a repeat of the refereeing debacle that marred the Springboks' match against the All Blacks earlier in the day, for Jonker was perfectly correct in sending Rhodes for an early shower.
If there is a red card offence, it is the stamping of an opponent on the ground, and Rhodes’s boots did land way too close to the Bulls player's face for comfort.
Indeed, Jonker had an outstanding game with the whistle, and was a marked improvement on the Frenchman who made such a mess of the game in Auckland earlier in the day.
He did yellow-card Bulls replacement flanker Jacques Engelbrecht in the 58th minute after the Bulls were guilty of repeat infringements, and that did help WP just a bit.
In the 10 minutes when the two teams were back to 14 against 14, WP showed just how superior they are to this Bulls team, as indeed they had shown for the bulk of an opening half hour in which they again started playing at 100 miles an hour.
The Cape team started the game carrying the ball impressively and patiently, and after a long multiple-phase build-up, they forced a fourth-minute penalty that Kurt Coleman kicked to put his team into a 3-0 lead.
Handre Pollard drew three back with a drop-goal not long after that, but the Bulls should have kicked themselves for not banking seven instead from a break-out by lock Grant Hattingh.
WP centre Damian de Allende chased Hattingh to the corner flag and at the end of his 60-metre run, Hattingh was tackled and a boot went out into touch as he crossed the line. Akona Ndungane was unmarked inside him though and would have scored had a pass been made.
Instead of the Bulls scoring the first try it was Province, with another impressive build-up, which started with a free kick at a scrum, where WP always had a telling advantage when it was still eight against eight and even at stages after that, being rounded off with fullback Gio Aplon running a good line and crossing from close range.
That was in the 13th minute, and WP continued to dominate until around the 20-minute mark, where the statistics showed that WP had enjoyed 69% possession and almost the same degree of dominance in possession.
But the Bulls came back strongly in the next 10 minutes, and dominated possession and territory only to be let down by some iffy place-kicking from former WP Schools star Pollard.
He did slot one from in front though on the half-hour mark to make it 13-6 (Coleman, who had his place-kicking boots on, had kicked another penalty in the meantime), and then came the Rhodes sending-off.
The WP try that followed the banishment of Rhodes was a gem, with De Allende putting a kick through that Cheslin Kolbe chased and gathered before passing inside to the big centre who went over untouched.
Coleman’s drop of the kick-off at the restart after halftime contributed to the pressure which eventually resulted in the Bulls’ first try to skipper Jono Ross, who capitalised on some strong driving play and scrum contributions from the newly introduced replacement Dean Greyling.
It looked a tall order then for WP, but with Nizaam Carr playing out of his shoes and proving a deserved man of the match, the Cape side, superbly led by De Kock Steenkamp in the absence of Deon Fourie, stuck to their task.
A Coleman penalty re-established a 10-point buffer and then two further penalties from replacement Gary van Aswegen took the lead to 16 points with six minutes to play.
The Bulls perhaps left the introduction of Clayton Blommetjies a bit late as he galvanised the home team’s attacking game in the last six minutes and they could well have added to the try by David Bulbring when they crossed in the final minute, but the try was disallowed because of a forward pass.
That ensured that the WP day was complete – not only had they won with 14 men, they had also denied their archrivals a solitary log point on their home ground.
Not that it should really have mattered to WP, as right now they are in a different part of the log to the Bulls.
Blue Bulls - Tries: Jono Ross, David Bulbring. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Drop Goal: Pollard. Penalty: Pollard.
Western Province - Tries: Gio Aplon, Damian de Allende. Conversions: Kurt Coleman (2). Penalties: Coleman (3), Gary van Aswegen (2).