CAPE TOWN – Phew, what a game! The 18 002 spectators at a windy Newlands – most of them Province fans – would’ve wondered how Western Province could go from rampaging past the Blue Bulls at Loftus last week and battle to find their rhythm seven days later.
But all that matters for the WP faithful is that their team are through to the Currie Cup final after a dramatic 35-32 extra time victory over the men from Pretoria on Saturday night.
The scores were locked at 32-32 after the 80 minutes after Bulls flyhalf Manie Libbok missed a last-gasp conversion to win the game.
Two halves of 10 minutes each followed, and up stepped WP hero SP Marais to kick a superb penalty in the second half of extra time to secure the triumph.
Province will take on the Sharks next Saturday at Newlands, after the Durban side beat the Golden Lions 33-24 at Kings Park.
But it should never have got so tight for WP, who regained their rhythm on attack in the second half after a scrappy opening 40 minutes where their handling and option-taking let them down.
Leading 32-27 in the second half, they chose to kick a penalty into touch instead of asking ‘dead-eye dick’ Marais to take aim at the posts.
The decision proved costly as Province were unable to score a try, and eventually impressive Bulls outside centre Dylan Sage dotted down in the right-hand corner to level the scores at 32-32.
WP would have reason to feel hard done by with referee Egon Seconds, who penalised the Bulls heavily in the first 60 minutes without dishing out a yellow card, especially with Wilco Louw dominating Trevor Nyakane in the scrums.
There was also a late shoulder charge on flyhalf Damian Willemse that only resulted in a penalty when it should probably have been a harsher punishment.
But credit to the Bulls, who managed to turnaround an embarrassing performance at Loftus Versfeld last week with genuine intuition on attack and commitment on defence.
While WP were guilty of forcing the pass and with the forwards getting in the way at times, the Bulls played with eye-catching width when they had ball-in-hand.
Flank Ruan Steenkamp got their first try by rumbling over, but it was the second touchdown by Duncan Matthews that showcased the growth in their game, with Libbok pulling off a superb pass to his wing.
Four Marais penalties kept WP in touch to be 17-12 down at halftime, but then a bit of magic by Dillyn Leyds saw the fullback spot the space and draw in the defence to put Marais over the line.
Province would’ve thought they got the winning momentum on the hour-mark, when Willemse chipped over the top and the ball bounced favourably for Sergeal Petersen, who regathered the ball before Scarra Ntubeni delivered the final pass for Paul de Wet to put WP into the lead at 29-27.
But the Bulls never gave up even after Marais knocked over a sixth penalty, and Sage would’ve taken great satisfaction to score in his home town.
Libbok, though, couldn’t bang over the touchline conversion, and while Marais missed a penalty in extra time, he booted the second opportunity through the posts.
Then it was up to the WP defence to hold on, and even after conceding possession from a five-metre scrum, they did enough to advance through to the final.
Western Province 35 – Tries: SP Marais, Paul de Wet. Conversions: Marais (2). Penalties: Marais (7).
Blue Bulls 32 – Tries: Ruan Steenkamp, Duncan Matthews, Manie Libbok, Dylan Sage. Conversions: Libbok (3). Penalties: Libbok (2).