Western Province scored two late tries to secure an enthralling 35-24 bonus-point win over the Sharks to advance to the semi-finals of the Currie Cup.
After all their struggles, WP needed a big performance and they delivered one, even though it looked at times as if they’d come up short.
Ultimately, a late flurry of tries – by JJ Kotze and Edwill van der Merwe – in the dying stages of an evenly contested match earned them a 35-24 win, just about enough to get them over the line and into the semi-finals at the expense of the Pumas, who agonisingly miss out on a playoff spot.
Matchflow: There was a lot riding on this game. WP needed to win by at least a 24-point margin or the four-try bonus-point rule to sneak into the semi-finals.
By contrast, the Sharks were assured of their place in the playoffs, having secured a home semi-final in the penultimate round of the competition last week.
In what was a perfect start for WP in Durban, their forwards won a couple of set-piece penalties in the 22 which set the platform for scrumhalf Paul de Wet to take a quick tap and soon after Dan du Plessis went over for the first try to put them 7-0 up.
With all the momentum and in full control, it didn’t take the visitors long to double their lead when a Tim Swiel chip kick was regathered and then sent out to Dan du Plessis, who grubbered and recollected to score his second try in the corner for a 14-3 scoreline.
Up to that point, the Sharks had played like a side with nothing to lose and that allowed Province to dictate play.
However, the hosts would land a double blow to wrestle the ascendancy away from WP. First, Yaw Penxe dashed over the line, then Phepsi Buthelezi grabbed their second five-pointer and Curwin Bosch was on hand to knock over both conversions for the lead at the break.
The second half was less action-packed, with points and tries coming few and far between.
The lead exchanged hands twice, as both teams crossed for tries. With the score at 24-21 and the clock winding down, the stage was set for a grand finale as WP needed one more try to keep their Currie Cup title hopes alive.
And, despite the inconsistent form through the campaign, WP came up clutch when the occassasion demanded it.
The big, season-saving play came via hooker Kotze, who burst through to score that all-important bonus-point try.
All the visiting team had to do was hold on to that slender lead. But they did more, as outbound wing Van der Merwe scored the fifth try to seal the victory and WP’s fate in the competition.