Free State win Craven Week finale in style


Even the most myopic Western Province supporters had to sit back and marvel at the spectacle, knowing they were watching an exceptionally talented, rare and special Free State team conquering all and sundry at the Coca- Cola Craven Week finale on Saturday.

How many of these Cheetah cubs will go on to become Springboks in the years to come is anyone's guess. But as they ran in seven unanswered tries to be crowned unofficial champions of Craven Week, the 8 000 crowd at Paul Roos were treated to as good an exhibition of total rugby as any connoisseur could hope to see.

As for Western Province? Well you couldn't fault their commitment. For the first 10 minutes of either half they threw everything they had at a Free State defence that simply refused to yield on their try-line. Ultimately the hosts were simply beaten by a superior team, but not disgraced in spite of the walloping they copped on the scoreboard.

The big difference between the two sides was the combinations and cohesion of a Free State 22 containing 16 Grey College schoolboys from an exceptional crop that has thrashed all comers this season.

Province were left to shine as individuals, but without that instinctive cohesion that comes from playing week in and out.

Free State saved their best for last and what a display of breathtaking running rugby they produced, featuring passing, precision and pace spiced with some magnificent angles on attack.

And none were better than the Ebersohn twins, flyhalf Sias and inside centre Robert, who between them bagged three tries - including one cameo with Robert cast as the playmaker and Sias the assassin, taking the final pass to score under the poles.

Province had their chances, but just couldn't collect critical passes that would have sent them over for two or three tries of their own.

Left wing Julian Karolus and flyhalf Jurgen Visser both fumbled the ball with the Free State defence stretched. And then outside centre Danie Poolman and right wing Tythan Adams both stepped inside into tackles with players in open space on their outside.

WP captain Nicholas Koster rose to the occasion as the best player for the hosts, twice beating Free State's first line of defence and breaking into open space. But with no-one reading the move to take the pass on his shoulder, these surges were smothered by Free State's cover defence.

And twice WP's forwards drove over Free State's try-line, only to be held up by a resolute and organised defence.

For the rest of the game it was champagne rugby by Free State with a cocktail of forwards and backs swerving and stepping, particularly from turnover ball, to produce the finest rugby of the week-long tournament.

Their first try was a direct result of a tighthead. No 8 Adriaan Theisinger, scrumhalf Sakkie Muller and the Ebersohn twins swapping passes before the forward cavalry came charging in to support with lock Pieter Labuschagne climbing out of the melee in celebration.

Pressure on the Province scrum and a subsequent clearance under pressure conspired to then give Free State a lineout within range, from where Labuschagne again surged and Sias Ebersohn came in on the angle to score their second.

Before half-time he had scored his magical second and hooker Frank Herne sealed victory with Free State's fourth to give his side a 28-3 lead at the half.

Ten minutes into the second half Free State hit back after Province's sustained effort. This time the forwards drove the ball up the middle before Muller and Herne took it wide and launched centre Johan van Schalkwyk over the line.

Then they iced the cake with two solo efforts, Robert Ebersohn swerving inside and out and accelerating through the gap and flank Moekoa Bolofo timing his run to take the pass from replacement wing Blaine Mkhwanazi to score the seventh try.

WP (3) 3

Free State (28) 52

Scorers: Western Province: Penalty: Jurgen Visser

Free State: Tries: Pieter Labuschagne, Sias Ebersohn (2), Frank Herne, Johan van Schalkwyk, Robert Ebersohn, Moekoa Bolofo. Conversions: Sias Ebersohn (7). Penalty: Sias Ebersohn




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