Cape Town – Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger have both been the faces of Western Province rugby for over a decade, yet they haven’t been part of a winning team in a Currie Cup final. But now captain Deon Fourie wants the two Springboks to finally savour the taste of glory in Saturday’s title decider against the Sharks at Newlands.
De Villiers made his senior WP debut in 2001 and Burger a year later, but haven’t been part of Province or Stormers teams that won a trophy. Both were injured last year when WP broke their 11-year drought by beating the Sharks in Durban in the Currie Cup final.
Burger only made his return to rugby a few weeks ago following a knee ligament injury in February last year and subsequent illness and calf problems, while De Villiers sustained a hamstring strain in training in the week leading up to last year’s semi-final against the Lions.
“We spoke about it, guys who have been here for 12 years and never won it,” Fourie said following WP’s 33-16 win over the Lions in the past weekend’s semi-final. “We as a team, I won’t say owe it to them, but it would be a nice destiny to talk about one day when you are old – to say that you won a Currie Cup with Schalk, who’s been out for two years, who at the beginning of the year people were saying it’s the end of his career.
“Now he’s playing in a Currie Cup final at Newlands, so how nice would it be to be a part of a team that won it?”
Province had a tough time of it in the first half as the Lions put their more illustrious opponents under pressure in the scrums and battled hard at the breakdowns. The Johannesburg side used their backs to good effect too, seeking space by utilising the width of the field through strike-runners like Anthony Volmink, Lionel Mapoe and Chrysander Botha.
But once Demetri Catrakilis finished off smartly after Duane Vermeulen had burst through the Lions defence, Province were never headed again and kept their composure to secure their first home final since 2001.
Fourie said that his players had learned from their mistakes in previous playoff matches. “What worked for us was that we stayed disciplined in our structures and we believed that if we had to play like we should play, points will come. And in this game, we showed it – when the guys did what they were supposed to do, the tries came and I’m very happy in that regard. We must start building on that because next week is like a Test match and you can’t make mistakes,” he said.
Fourie himself produced another busy performance, contesting hard at the breakdowns and giving WP great impetus on attack. He played a key role in the way Province maintained continuity with improved ball retention – in one passage of play after halftime, WP took the ball through 20 phases to within five metres of the tryline.
But the skipper had a special word of praise for Vermeulen, who was again outstanding all around the field, winning turnovers at the rucks and taking WP over the advantage line.
“I think Duane had a massive game again, and just to play with him makes my job easier.
“And Siya (Kolisi) is getting into his stride again – I think starting these past two games, he is getting in there. And we are lucky to have Schalk come off the bench, that’s even better,” he said.
“Last time we didn’t stay in our system in our maul defence, and we didn’t do it again. We pride ourselves on lineout defence and we took those two mauling tries to heart, and I think we did really well in this game. Especially with Eben (Etzebeth) back, the contesting made it so much easier – and with Duane and De Kock (Steenkamp), the whole thing worked and we must build on that. Finals are Test-match rugby, and that’s what you need.”