DURBAN – Western Province have a glittering history of success in Currie Cup finals, but seldom over the last 126 years have they completely overwhelmed a host team against expectation as they did at a mortified Kings Park on Saturday.
The Sharks were favourites going into the final after being the form team of the last three months, and most thought that the WP pool victory here two weeks ago was an aberration on the Sharks’ march to ultimate glory.
But that surprise win proved to be an ominous portent of things to come for the Sharks, while a massive psychological boost for the Capetonians.
That day Province overcame a halftime deficit to run away with the game in the next 40, and on Saturday, lightning struck gloriously twice for the visitors.
The Province forwards were magnificent in smashing the Sharks, especially in the set scrums where tighthead Wilco Louw was huge, and the Sharks found themselves trying to play without the ball, while Province grew ever confident.
Without possession, the Sharks were toothless. If the classics were rewritten in rugby parlance, you could say the best-laid plans of man or mouse go awry when you don’t have the ball.
The signs of an upset were there from the very first scrum, which saw a blue-and-white forward surge. The 40 000 groaned, but surely it would not happen again? It did. Frequently.
On the back foot, the Sharks’ defence was also put under the blowtorch and exposed some frailties, notably in straight forward one-on-one defence.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez was gracious in defeat, and did not argue that lack of possession and lapses on defence were fatal flaws.
“The WP front row was exceptional,” Du Preez said. “They won that battle and that laid their foundation.
“It is hard to win the gain-line battle when you are struggling upfront. Congratulations to Province. We just could not get going in the second half. It was a game of two halves.”
The pattern of scoring illustrates that. The Sharks scored their last points in the 32nd minute, a beautiful Curwin Bosch drop goal for a 21-10 lead. They never scored again.
WP scored 18 unanswered points, starting significantly with an invaluable try just before halftime by Huw Jones, who would nail a second vital try in the second half for a Man-of-the-Match performance.
It was a deserved accolade for the centre, although many would have given it to Louw, whose performance would have heartened Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, given the dearth of uninjured tightheads on the national front.
WP coach John Dobson said that the game was a bizarre replication of the league game.
“It was a carbon copy. We weathered the storm, and then took over,” the delighted Dobson said.
“We knew that we could attack them upfront. The first scrum was a Sharks put-in, and we scrummed them off the ball. That laid down the marker.”
The Sharks’ two first-half tries and the kicking of Bosch became a trailing memory for the home side, and Bosch not only had little possession to control the game, but also failed to make hits on defence, with Province twice scoring as a result.
But it would it would be unfair to single out a single player. The Sharks were not good enough across the park, particularly upfront, and that meant a ripple affect through every aspect of their game.
“There was some half-hearted defence,” agreed Du Preez. “There were also disciplinary lapses, which you can’t afford in finals.”
The yellow-carding of Dan du Preez is a case in point.
For the Du Preez family, there was another unfortunate moment when Jean-Luc limped off in the first half with an ankle injury.
Countering that was another excellent performance by WP flyhalf Robert du Preez, and in Saturday night’s press conference, the father and opposition coach confirmed that his elder son is now joining the Sharks.
“Robert is coming to us, and he will add good depth and competition at flyhalf,” the coach said.
Sharks 21 – Tries: Odwa Ndungane, Dan du Preez. Conversion: Curwin Bosch (1). Penalties: Bosch (2). Drop Goal: Bosch (1).
WP 33 – Tries: Huw Jones (2), Dillyn Leyds, Cobus Wiese. Conversions: Robert du Preez (2). Penalties: Du Preez (3).