WP edge Ellis Park epic

RYAN VREDE reports on a 21-16 victory for Western Province who shifted gears in the final quarter to down the Golden Lions in their Currie Cup semi-final.

WP lost twice to the Lions in the league phase, and appeared to be on their way out of the competition before they showed the mettle that has so often eluded them in knock-out matches. This will be an important step in their youngsters’ education, although a far greater test awaits against the Sharks in Durban next week.

The defending champions will lament poor goal kicking, but outside of a try from broken field, they never posed a serious attacking threat.

Defence dominated the first half, with the visitors faring better in the regard. The Lions didn’t test their now famously efficient system (even when Gerhard van den Heever was yellow carded in the seventh minute), refusing to earn the right to play the expansive game they wanted to.

A little more pragmatism in their play would have benefited them, but with their strike runners in the pack seeing too little of the ball and flyhalf Elton Jantjies tucked too deep in the pocket, they were always going to struggle to break down the WP wall. They compounded their problems with poor goal kicking, Jantjies missing three penalties in the first 40, while Ruan Combrink’s 55m effort came up short.

WP looked the more organsied side, playing well through the phases with their forwards. But they showed too little appreciation for the territory game and little inventiveness in the back division initially, Don Armand coming up with their best chance but being held up over the line in his attempt to score.

Demetri Catrakilis kicked both of his penalty goals, giving his side a 6-3 lead at half-time, but Jantjies levelled with a three pointer just after the restart. Then the Lions grabbed the initiative with a try that was birthed from a turnover in their 22m, Michael Rhodes running a good angle to cut through the line. Jantjies converted and the Lions looked galvanised.

The Joburg union upped the ante at the gainline and in their breakdown contesting, which in turn compromised WP’s ability to control the flow and tempo of their attacking play. There were a couple of flashes of brilliance from the Cape side’s backs, but their potency patently lay in their tight play, particularly their mauling. One such surge drove them into the Lions’ red zone, only to see yet another opportunity slip away through a combination of poor ball protection and a rabid Lions ruck assault.

WP gambled by sending on scrumhalf Louis Schreuder to replace ace goal kicker Catrakilis, no doubt hoping the youngster would inject something special into their attacking play. But the Lions were brutal in their defence and reduced their opponents to rudderless messes. With each minute that ticked by, the inexperienced WP side seemed to become more desperate and consequently more loose. This played into the Lions’ hands, as they were able to pick off their targets with relative ease.

The composure they showed under pressure, aided by the experience they were able to introduce off the bench, was impressive. But they finally succumbed, WP fullback Joe Pietersen rounding off a move in which his forwards depleted the Lions’ defensive line superbly. Crucially he missed the conversion attempt, leaving his side down by two, but he made no mistake from a penalty shortly thereafter.

One point game. Four minutes to play.

Jantjies held his nerve with a 78th-minute penalty, leaving the Lions with a desperate closing period, one they couldn’t negotiate successfully, with WP setting up a rolling maul 20m out from goal and rumbling to glory.