Two second-half tries saw Western Province clinch a 23-18 win over the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Friday night’s semi-final at Loftus. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Province’s title defence is still alive. Tries to Cheslin Kolbe and Jano Vermaak, and an 11-point haul from flyhalf Rob du Preez, was enough to see the reigning champs to a hard-fought victory that was far from convincing, but enables them to progress to a fourth successive domestic final.
After impressing throughout the season with their exciting attacking approach, the Bulls strangely reverted to a kicking game for this knockout clash, and they ultimately paid a dear price.
They’ll also regret a nonsensical decision to turn down a kickable penalty with 12 minutes left to play, which could have handed them the lead at a crucial juncture in the match.
By contrast, Province can celebrate an incredible result that gives them a golden opportunity to defend their title. They’ll play the winner of Saturday’s semi-final between the Golden Lions and Free State Cheetahs, and should the Cheetahs somehow pull off an upset victory, Province could still host a final.
During what was a rather dour first half riddled with penalties (14 in total), neither side managed to assert any real ascendancy after some aimless and inaccurate kicking.
The Bulls did enjoy the better of the early exchanges, though, and deservedly moved into a 6-0 lead after a couple of penalties to flyhalf Tian Schoeman within the first 15 minutes.
However, Western Province gradually worked their way into the match, and Du Preez managed to draw scores level with a penalty on either side of the quarter-hour mark.
With Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman receiving a yellow card for a high tackle in the 24th minute, the home side was forced into an extended period of defence, but they did well to keep Province at bay.
In the end, Schoeman and Du Preez traded a penalty each before the break, with the score remaining deadlocked at 9-9 after a half in which WP had the better of the possession stats, while the Bulls had enjoyed most of the territorial advantage.
Schoeman edged the Bulls ahead with a fourth penalty early on in the second half, but it would be the elusive Kolbe who finally jolted proceedings with a typically opportunistic try in the 52nd minute.
Along with the conversion from Du Preez, the visitors moved into the lead for the first time, but the Bulls quickly reduced their deficit to just a solitary point with another penalty to Schoeman soon after.
The Bulls flyhalf had an opportunity to put his side back into the lead, but his long-range penalty kick drifted wide, just past the hour mark, while the hosts then made their bizarre decision to turn down a shot at goal.
Nothing came of the resultant lineout, and the Bulls would be made to pay dearly when Province created an opportunity from nowhere, with veteran Vermaak going over unopposed, while replacement Kurt Coleman slotted a crucial conversion to hand WP an eight-point lead.
Schoeman made it a five-point ball game with his sixth penalty, but Province managed to hold on under pressure to book their place in the final.
Blue Bulls – Penalties: Tian Schoeman (6).
Western Province – Tries: Cheslin Kolbe, Jano Vermaak. Conversions: Rob du Preez, Kurt Coleman. Penalties: Du Preez (3).
Blue Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (c), 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 William Small-Smith.
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (c) 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Huw Jones.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images