It was not meant to be for the Wildebeest on Saturday when their incredible Vodacom Cup campaign reached an unfortunate climax against the Falcons in Brakpan.

The KZN team lost 25-17, which was only their second defeat in 14 matches in a campaign which included 12 away matches. That tally included the final, which was gifted to the Falcons by the South African Rugby Union as part of its policy of fostering rugby in the weaker rugby regions.

"Where else in the world do you finish top of the log but then have to go to place like Brakpan to play the final?" asked disappointed Wildebeest coach Swys de Bruin.

"Please don't get me wrong, I don't have sour grapes, but our loss needs to be put in context because home-ground advantage for the Falcons was huge. It is not easy to play there, particularly when the town turns out to support their team for a final."

The feeling among the Wildebeest that it was "not meant to be" intensified when they came out for the second half. They had played against a strong wind in the first half and had spoken about their tactics for the second half, when they would have the wind in their favour. But while they were in the shed, the weather changed and a gale-force wind came up in the opposite direction.

"Playing against the wind for the entire match was very difficult," said de Bruin. "Their wing's 56m, wind-assisted drop-goal to take the game away from us at the end said it all."

The Wildebeest never really got their high-paced game going and television observers would have seen the reason why.

The Falcons' policy of slowing the Wildebeest ball down any which way they could never went punished by the referee. The Wildebeest game depends on quick ball, and when they could not get it and found themselves sucked into a typical, second division-type game, they were in trouble.

One wonders how De Bruin will motivate his team for next year's Vodacom Cup. All season he told his charges to grit their teeth over the unfair number of away games because they would get the reward of a home final. But now that Saru have taken away that carrot, what motivation is there for the teams from the Super 14 regions?

Having tasted defeat just once all season - against the Falcons, incidentally - they arrived in chilly Brakpan in determined mood. Revenge might be a strong word, and earlier in the week De Bruin avoided using it, preferring instead to suggest that it was about "rectifying a mistake".

Sadly, the Wildebeest did not leave their best for last, and they will admit that they have played better rugby this season.

Although they led 14-10 at half-time, it was the Valke who had the measure of their opponents in the second half, outscoring them 15-3, to eventually win 25-17.

Both teams scored two first-half tries. The two Wildebeest conversions proved the difference between the two teams, with Valke flyhalf Louis Strydom battling with the boot.

The Wildebeest enjoyed the better of the half, playing with more enterprise but making mistakes on defence, but as the half wore on, and they started to play with more patience, their hard work started to pay off. Yet it was not until the 34th minute that the mercurial Brent Russell linked up well with Alistair Hargreaves, showing his pace to beat the defence, and then scoring again four minutes later.

Possession was evenly shared at the break, but the Wildebeest enjoyed a territorial advantage of 60%, and conceded half as many penalties as the opposition (4 to 8).

In the second half, the Wildebeest lost their way. They could have scored four or more tries but too often, spilled possession in the tackle.


Wildebeest: Tries: Brent Russell, Brett Hennessey. Conversions: Scott Spedding (2). Penalty: Spedding

Falcons: Tries: Brendan April, Jacques Nieuwehuis, Deon Strydom, Jan Cloete. Conversion: Riaan Viljoen, Drop goal: Viljoen.