Western Province were far more impressive than their match-winning 33-21 scoreline against the Sharks suggested when the two teams wrapped up the league stage of the Absa Currie Cup competition at Newlands on Saturday evening.
For most of the way, Province, who ended in second position in the final standings, outplayed the log-leaders and with this victory assured themselves of a home semifinal at Newlands next week.
The Sharks will host the Bulls at 3pm and Province will be at home to the Cheetahs two hours later in the two semifinal match-ups.
The home side’s early foray into the Sharks’ territory proved productive when flyhalf Willem de Waal kicked a fourth minute penalty in front of the posts (3-0).
With so much riding on the match, the players were tense and that contributed to scrappy play in the opening 10 minutes.
A 12th minute counterattack sprung deep inside his own 22-metre area by left wing Bryan Habana sparked a new sense of urgency in the home side’s ranks. After a few excellent forward rallies upfield, flanker Francois Louw supplied the scoring pass to fullback Gio Aplon, who dotted down at the corner flag. De Wall then stretched the lead to 10-0.
The Sharks were frequently guilty of offences at the breakdowns and referee Mark Lawrence had no hesitation in blowing them up. De Waal added to their woes with a 22nd minute strike (13-0).
As the first-half play wound towards the break Province started imposing themselves on the contest with a few enterprising sorties which kept the Sharks’ defence busy, except for a brief spell when hooker Bismarck du Plessis and flanker Michael Rhodes led a break-out which led to a try by eighthman Ryan Kankowski try in the 31st minute. Sharks fullback Patrick Lambie added the conversion (13-7).
The setback did little to deter Province who kept plugging away and were starting to impress with strong-running. This feature of their play saw them breach the Sharks defence out wide when eighthman Duane Vermeulen crossed at the corner flag. De Waal kicked splendidly from the touchline on the stroke of halftime to bring the score to 20-7.
When the teams returned to the fray after the break Province held the upper hand as the Sharks struggled to contain the enterprising play.
Province’s ascendancy at this stage was well worth at least a try or two but apart from the Sharks’ desperate defence, errors crept into their play at crucial stages.
Instead they had to rely on the boot of De Waal to take the match away from the Currie Cup log-leaders, and that’s what he did in the 55th minute with a penalty to open up a 16-point lead (23-7).
Another brief reversal in the flow of the match saw the Sharks make good and with the Province defence caught napping, substitute fullback Louis Ludik tip-toed his way past the rearguard to score next to the posts. Lambie added the conversion in the 65th minute (23-14).
By this stage, there was no doubt about the eventual outcome and De Waal’s fourth penalty strike in the 68th minute helped to stretch the lead to 26-14.
Then Province scored a converted Jean de Villiers try in the 76th minute and then substitute centre Adrian Jacobs returned the compliment for the Sharks three minutes to later to wrap up the scoring in the match at 33-21. – Sapa