29 October 2012
Western Province were crowned South African provincial rugby champions for the first time since 2001 after an upset 25-18 defeat of the Natal Sharks in the Absa Currie Cup final in Durban on Saturday night. It was a tight but deserved win for Allister Coetzee’s charges.
Before the game, most pundits agreed that the Sharks had too much firepower for the men from Cape Town. They had better depth, they were more experienced and they had beaten Province (or the Stormers) in their four previous meetings in 2012.
In addition, the game was at Mr Price Kings Park where the Sharks had lost only to the Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs, all year, and when the same two teams met in the 2010 final in Durban, the Sharks ran out convincing 30-10 winners.
But that is why the game is played. Victories on paper don’t count.
The star of the Sharks’ 20-point victory in 2010 was flyhalf Patrick Lambie, who scored 25 of the home team’s 30 points. He had been in superb form heading into the 2012 final and was expected to dominate his Western Province counterpart Demetri Catrakilis.
It didn’t turn out that way as Catrakilis played a pivotal part in Province’s victory, performing efficiently throughout and landing two drop goals, one with his right foot and the other off his left foot to stretch his team’s lead to seven points right at the death.
Early on, it looked as if a Sharks’ victory would be a formality. The game was hard-fought, but the Sharks were bossing it.
With their all-Springbok front row, they were clearly stronger in the tight scrums, but Province, led by Bok lock Eben Etzebeth, gave the Sharks fits at lineout time. Nonetheless, they appeared in control of the game.
After Catrakilis landed an early penalty, the Sharks dominated possession and territory. By the 27th minute they led 12-3 after forcing four kickable penalties, which Lambie landed.
While Province resisted strongly – their defence has been their strength throughout 2012 – they did not appear threatening on the offence, especially after losing star winger Bryan Habana to injury early on, and with the Sharks playing most of the game in the Western Province half, it looked as if regularly kicking penalties would win it for the hosts.
Dion Fourie and company, however, pulled back three points in the 33rd minute when Joe Pietersen, Habana’s replacement, landed a long distance kick at posts.
Then, with half-time drawing near, Juan de Jongh won Province a scrum inside Sharks’ territory with some good defence. From the set piece, the visitors executed a planned move to perfection as De Jongh took a pass from Catrakilis and just evaded the tackles of two defenders. He then wrong-footed Lwazi Mvovo to race through and score under the uprights.
Catrakilis added the conversion to put Province, who had been under the cosh, into a narrow 13-12 lead.
The try seemed to inject the visiting team with belief and inspiration and they began to take the game to the Sharks more, whilst maintaining a stubborn and hard- hitting defence.
Right before the half-time whistle, Catrakilis added a further penalty to the Western Province score to make it 16-12 to the underdogs at the break.
The Sharks began the second half with a massive scrum that destroyed the Province front eight and earned the home team a penalty. Another successful kick from Lambie reduced the deficit to only one point.
Province were put under significant pressure for the next 10 minutes, but the Sharks could not find a way over the try line and had to settle for Lambie’s sixth penalty after 56 minutes, which did, nonetheless, give them a narrow 18-16 lead.
It didn’t last long as the men in blue and white forced their way deep into Sharks’ territory, where they put the home side under heavy pressure. They were awarded a penalty and Catrakilis made no mistake with the easy kick to edge his side 19-18 in front.
Two minutes later, captain Dion Fourie made a break and after a number of phases Catrakilis struck with a well-taken drop goal to extend his team’s lead to four points.
Western Province kept up the pressure and played the game in the Sharks’ half, but when they won a penalty Joe Pietersen was wide with a longer range effort.
With five minutes to play, Province won a tighthead and took play into the Sharks’ 22. Catrakilis then stuck a dagger in the hearts of Sharks’ supporters by scrambling to his left and striking a left-footed drop goal low over the posts.
At 25-18 down, the home team needed a converted try to level the contest and they very nearly got it.
An excellent break down the right put Louis Ludik in the clear, with Charl McLeod racing up on his outside, and only Pietersen to beat. Ludik drew Pietersen and passed to McLeod. The fullback, though, guessed correctly and at the last moment pulled out of tackling Ludik and dragged McLeod down.
With time up, Province had a scrum and needed only to kick the ball out to win. McLeod, though, forced a turnover and the Sharks’ faithful looked on. hoping for a fairytale ending.
The men in black and white worked their way up the field, pushing Western Province back, but, after going through numerous phases, a knock on meant the Cape Town-based team had won the Currie Cup for the first time in 11 years.
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