Newlands - It wasn’t a performance completely without blemish but in booking their first home Currie Cup final in 12 years, Western Province impressed visiting coach Johan Ackermann enough for him to suggest they will go on to retain the title they won last year.
WP started slowly and were put on the back foot in the early scrums, but they showed great composure to overcome the early pressure and then, with a brilliant try from Gio Aplon providing the spark shortly before half-time, gradually take control to the extent that by the end they were completely dominant.
Any doubt that the final would be in Cape Town next week was erased by the 51st minute, which was when Demetri Catrakilis’ fourth penalty put WP 24-9 ahead.
Scoring three converted tries in the half hour remaining was mission impossible for the Lions, and as Ackermann said, WP are not a team that you can play catch-up against.
“WP have to be the favourites next week regardless of who they play in the final,” said Ackermann.
“They are the team to beat and have been for most of the competition.
“You look at them and there are no areas that you can pinpoint as areas of weakness that you can attack.
“They are extremely physical, they have a flyhalf in Catrakilis who is excellent at controlling the game, their defence is there, and they also have exciting backs who have been around the blocks a few times and can break your line at any time.”
Although his men did get the better of WP in the early scrums, Ackermann didn’t think that would necessarily count for much next week.
“The WP set-phases are very strong too. Last week their scrumming was good and everyone was saying how well their young pack did against the Sharks.
“They settled and got better against us later in this game. CJ van der Linde and Willie Wepener have a lot of experience and used it to good effect for us early on.
“It is probably better that we had a tough game and had to work for our victory.”
That said, WP should perhaps be pleased that for most of the way the Lions gave them a tough game and did expose areas, such as the scrum, that requires some work before the final.
“We were put under a lot of pressure in the scrums and I think our maturity showed in the way we road that and still came through for a victory that may have been slightly flattering but which was nonetheless well-earned,” said WP coach Allister Coetzee.
The coach was understandably chuffed with the break of a long Newlands drought when it came to finals, but said the job wasn’t finished.
“We want to cap it by winning next week and making our fans proud,” he said.
It was a moment of typical Aplon brilliance that prevented this game from being the contest it looked set to be for most of the first half.
Up to the half hour mark and a bit beyond that, the Lions were making a fist of their quest to shock the overwhelming favourites.
They had given WP plenty to think about in the early scrums, their physicality in the collisions was giving them at least parity in the battle for the gainline, the hard running Anthony Volmink was putting pressure on the diminutive back three with his chasing.
Lions fullback Marnitz Boshoff missed a long range penalty near the start of the game, but Elton Jantjies was on hand to make up for the miss in the sixth minute to give the visiting team the early lead.
And although WP drew the scores level with a penalty from Demetri Catrakilis, it was the Lions ahead again, and full value for that lead, with another Jantjies penalty in the 20th minute.
Even the first try they scored through Catrakilis, which started with a Jean de Villiers run and was set up by a powerful break from big Duane Vermeulen, did not completely settle Province and there were frequent ragged periods.
But it was off one of those patches of sevens type rugby that Aplon proved his game-breaking ability.
By then the WP lead was down to one point (10-9), and with half-time just three minutes away, the Lions would have been happy with the way the game was going.
The ball had flown left and right across the field, both teams taking their turns to attack, when it ended up in the hands of Aplon near the halfway line.
The fullback appeared to check for a moment before bursting through a gap, and then slowed to half pace as it looked as though he was considering passing the ball.
Boshoff was slow to react though when Aplon clicked on his burners and both he and the Bredasdorp flyer Volmink were left in Aplon’s wake as he ran the ball in at the corner. Catrakilis failed with the conversion, but he made up for it with a penaly on the half-time hooter to take WP into an 18-9 lead.
From being a close game, WP had suddenly opened up a gap in the closing stages of the half, and as much as that would have been a psychological boost for Deon Fourie’s men, so it would have been a psychological blow to the Lions.
In truth, although it wouldn’t be fair to suggest they capitulated tamely, the Lions were never really in the game after that.
The Lions did strike back with a late try to No8 Warren Whiteley, but by then the gap was 18 points and the score was no more than a consolation effort.
The 11 points wasn’t going to be made up in the six minutes left for play, and for good measure WP went back into the Lions half to drum home their advantage with two more penalties, this time kicked by replacement Kurt Coleman.
Next week’s will be the first home final for Province since they beat the Sharks in the 2001 Newlands decider.
Western Province: Tries: Demetri Catrakilis, Gio Aplon. Conversion: Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (5), Kurt Coleman (2).
Golden Lions: Try: Warren Whiteley; Conversion: Marnitz Boshoff. Penalties: Elton Jantjies (3).