After scoring over 150 points in three weeks, the Vodacom Cheetahs struggled to penetrate Western Province’s defence, losing 20-13.
A late try by Cheetahs prop Richardt Strauss gave the visitors a bonus point, but the game belonged to Vodacom Western Province, especially in the second half.
Although the rain came down in the second period, the match was played at a high intensity and, unlike the international in Brisbane, was always a close contest.
The big names performed for the big occasion, with Western Province captain Luke Watson having another blinder in the loose. Another prominent figure both as a ball carrier and defender was eighth man Robbie Diack, while Bolla Conradie, in his 50th game, controlled the match behind a pack that once again exceeded expectations.
The match began at a great pace, with WP putting in some classy touches and scoring the opening try through Justin Melck. The Cheetahs then slowed down the pace of the game and dominated territory and possession, but were denied any real reward through superb WP defence. For most of the game, it didn’t matter whether the Cheetahs took it wide or attacked close to the contact points, Province halted the progress.
Province’s defence proved significant in the build-up to their second try. A turnover created the intial attack and from a five metre scrum Diack powered over.
Watson continues to be WP’s X-factor, securing several key turnovers that prevented the Cheetahs from establishing any momentum.
The Cheetahs strength was, as expected, in the line-outs, and coach Rassie Erasmus would have been pleased with how successful they were in this area. But where they excelled in winning the ball, they struggled to gain sufficient ground with the rolling maul. Again the Province forwards need to take a bow, as they worked effectively as a unit to limit the visitors’ progress. Having stood firm against the Sharks and matched the Bulls in Pretoria, the pack can no longer be considered a WP weakness.
Both backlines looked to be innovative and the home team midfield of Sarel Potgieter and Corne Uys were good in broken play. Surprisingly, Free State relied more on structure among the backs, although the second half rain could have been another reason why they played with such inhibition.
Free State also persisted in kicking to the corner from penalties, but their search for a try proved elusive until the last play of the game. History shows that Free State have won at Newlands in recent times by kicking penalties and playing the percentages. On Saturday they deviated from a reliance on goalkicking and suffered because of the decision.
Province, doubtful for a play-off position following the dismal Stormers effort in the Super 14, are entrenched in the top four of the Absa Currie Cup and with a bit more polish may even be eyeing a top two position, whereas a month ago the goal would have been top four.
WP - Tries: Justin Melck (3 mins), Robbie Diack (36 mins); Conversions: Naas Olivier (2); Penalties: Olivier (2)
Cheetahs - Tries: Richardt Strauss (80 mins); Conversion: Willem De Waal; Penalties: De Waal (2)
By Jon Cardinelli, at Newlands