Western Province's dominant scrum performance, as well as the sharp decision-making of flyhalf Rob du Preez, was the difference in the Currie Cup final, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Talk about drama. The hosts led 21-10 after Curwin Bosch nailed a long-range drop goal in the 32nd minute. At that point, the Sharks were winning the collisions and playing in the right areas of the park. At that stage, they looked like they were on course for a title triumph.
Province hit back, though, to score 23 unanswered points over the next 48 minutes. The complexion of the game changed as the visitors began to win the collisions, and started to boss possession (the final figure was 59% in WP’s favour) and territory (59%).
What didn’t change over the course of the 80 minutes was WP’s dominance at the scrum. In the lead-up to the game, Thomas du Toit chirped his good mate Wilco Louw about the crucial battle at the set piece. When push came to shove in the game, so to speak, it was Louw and the WP front-rankers who made the most telling of statements.
The pressure exerted by the WP scrum prevented the Sharks from completely dominating the physical exchanges in the first stanza. JC Janse van Rensburg, Bongi Mbonambi, Louw, and of course the back-five, worked hard to get under the Sharks and force the hosts to backpedal and, in many instances, impede.
The Sharks conceded five scrum penalties. Du Preez converted several of those infringements into three-pointers. In a couple of other instances, the scrum set the platform for a WP try.
Huw Jones scored his first try after the WP heavies had put the Sharks under pressure at the set piece. In the 52nd minute, the scrum wheeled and Nizaam Carr took an excellent option to break down the blindside. It was there that Carr found Bosch defending on the wing.
Bosch managed to stop Carr from advancing, but couldn't prevent the WP No 8 from getting the ball away. Cobus Wiese arrived at the right time to finish the try and reduce the deficit to a single point.
The psychological advantage gained at the scrum started to reflect in other areas of WP’s game. The visitors started to boss the collisions. After making 16 handling errors in the first stanza, they made only eight in the second. Forwards and backs were playing with more power, accuracy and confidence.
By contrast, the Sharks wilted under the pressure. Bosch had a disappointing second half, missing some crucial kicks on goal and failing to stand up when required to on defence.
Questions must be asked, though, of the Sharks forwards. Not for the first time this season, they failed to put in an 80-minute performance.
Du Preez took some excellent options. The WP flyhalf was a consistent threat at the gainline, even when his forwards were struggling at the breakdowns and collisions in the first half. Province controlled the game superbly in the latter stages, and it was during that period that Du Preez showed his mettle to sink some pressure kicks.
The Sharks won 10 of their 12 matches in the regular season and deserved to host the final. On the day of the decider, however, it was WP who deserved to win and lift the coveted domestic trophy.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images
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