Western Province underlined their status as Currie Cup log leaders with a 50-28 victory characterised by missed opportunities over a game Cell C Sharks side at Newlands on Saturday afternoon.
Played in perfect conditions, it was a high-intensity, high-scoring match, but ultimately the hosts capitalised on mistakes – as head coach Robert du Preez warned was a strength of theirs. Although there was a time when we piled on the pressure and turned that into points around the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, Western Province hit back strongly to take the game away from our grasp.
It couldn’t have started better for us. 43 seconds into the game, Marius Louw touched down the first try of the match, finishing off a great attacking movement that he sparked after being put into space and feeding Lwazi Mvovo who made distance down the touchline before making the try-scoring offload. Robert du Preez converted well from the touchline and the Cell C Sharks had drawn first blood.
Although down, the hosts weren’t out and in no time had scored a try of their own, a few minutes later showing why they have scored the most tries in the competition with a good effort through numerous phases.
Western Province scored again, this just before the 10 minute mark as the ball was intercepted 40m out and with the defence disorganised, they capitalised. The conversion took the hosts into a 14-7 lead and they extended it to 10 points with a long range penalty.
Moments later Louw came close to scoring his second try but lost the ball in the tackle which heralded the first scrum of the match after the opening quarter, demonstrating how well both teams looked after the ball in the perfect conditions.
Province were again on top as we were penalised on attack and then the home side worked their way downfield before scoring their third try enroute to a 24-7 lead with 15 minutes of the half still remaining. And then came the bonus point try a minute later as they successfully ran the ball from the kick-off.
The scoring continued, but this time in our favour following a scrum penalty and then quick recycling with Tyler Paul the man to smash his way over.
Despite having dominated on the scoreboard, once Province found themselves under pressure, they resorted to questionable and cynical actions that led to numerous penalties as the game wound itself down towards half-time.
After earning a referee’s warning for continual rolling maul sacking and other dubious plays, the first half was extended into five minutes of extra time before lock Gideon Koegelenberg finally crashing through the defence for an important try under the posts. Du Preez converted for a 31-21 half-time score.
Replacement Aphalele Fassi scored the first try of the second half after Province had lost huge territory after conceding a number of scrum penalties. Scoring on either side of half-time had put the home side under real pressure and they had lost a huge lead, now just three points ahead.
We had come out for the second half with massive amounts of energy and our urgency on both attack and defence was keeping us in the game and Province out. The home side spent 10 minutes in and around our 22 looking to put themselves further ahead, but our defence was simply heroic in keeping our tryline safe.
But no wall can take such a hammering and after 20 minutes of pushing hard, Province were finally rewarded. The conversion, one of the easiest for SP Marais, was shanked and with 15 minutes of this pulsating match remaining, there were eight points in it.
But Western Province were gifted a second intercept try after we had worked our way back into good field position and all the hard work was undone. Together with the conversion, Province’s sixth try put them into what seemed to be an unassailable 15 point lead with six minutes remaining.
Province showed their credentials with a last gasp try to rub further salt in our wounds of a match of what-could-have-been if not for some disappointments on attack.
A disappointed captain Chiliboy Ralepelle said afterwards: “Western Province really put us under pressure, that took away our momentum and the gain-line momentum. We should have been more clinical in finishing off our opportunities and that pressure cost us.”