PRETORIA – Exciting young playmaker Damian Willemse snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for Western Province as they beat the Blue Bulls 46-45 in their Currie Cup north-south derby at Loftus Versfeld on Sunday afternoon.
In what turned out to be a 13-try thriller – with the Bulls scoring seven touchdowns and WP six – it came down to a goal-kick in the dying seconds of the encounter.
The 20-year-old Willemse, who started at fullback instead of his usual flyhalf position, stepped up and showed maturity beyond his years to slot over the pressure-filled kick to clinch all five log points for Province.
The match see-sawed throughout the 80 thrilling minutes, and there was never a clear winner right until the final whistle.
WP were quick out of the blocks, scoring two tries in the opening seven minutes to open up a 14-0 lead as lock JD Schickerling and flyhalf Robert du Preez crossed the tryline, with Du Preez adding the extras from the boot.
But the Bulls clawed their way back into proceedings, with fullback Warrick Gelant putting the home side on the board almost immediately after Du Preez’s try in the eighth minute.
The WP pivot extended their lead with a penalty at the end of the first quarter, and it looked like coach John Dobson’s team were well on their way to a crucial victory that would keep their Currie Cup semi-final hopes alive.
But John Mitchell’s outfit hit back with a double strike before halftime through loose forward Nic de Jager and hooker Edgar Marutlulle, and suddenly the Bulls were 19-17 up at the break.
Defence continued to take a back seat for both teams in the second half, as first WP No 8 Nizaam Carr went over, but then Bulls scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl put his team back into the lead at 26-24.
Three tries in 12 minutes by Province appeared to put the result beyond doubt, though, with wing Seabelo Senatla grabbing a brace in addition to Scottish Test centre Huw Jones’ five-pointer, which sandwiched Bulls wing Duncan Matthews’ 58th-minute try.
WP would’ve felt that a 43-31 lead was secure enough to defend in the closing stages, but tries by replacement back Ulrich Beyers and inside centre JT Jackson put the Bulls back into a dramatic lead at 45-43 with three minutes left.
It looked like Province had blown their playoff chances, but Willemse showed his big-match temperament by booting WP to victory in injury time.
With this bonus-point win, the Cape side moved up to second on the log with 32 points after 10 matches, behind runaway leaders the Sharks on 47 after 11 games, with the Bulls facing a tough task to qualify as they sixth on 22 points from 10 outings.
Blue Bulls 45 – Tries: Warrick Gelant, Nic de Jager, Edgar Marutlulle, Ivan van Zyl, Duncan Matthews, Ulrich Beyers, JT Jackson. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (3), Tony Jantjies (2).
Western Province 46 – Tries: JD Schickerling, Robert du Preez, Nizaam Carr, Seabelo Senatla (2), Huw Jones. Conversions: Du Preez (5). Penalties: Du Preez (1), Damian Willemse (1).
African News Agency (ANA)