If ever there was accuracy to the saying that one team survived on scraps it was in Kimberley on Saturday as DHL Western Province fought out a crucial 20-19 away Absa Currie Cup win over GWK Griquas with hardly any possession to speak of.
WP were forced to make more than four times the number of tackles as their opponents, and yet made maximum use of the minimal bit of possession that did come their way through two well taken tries off turn-over ball that enabled them to pick up the four log points for the win.
Those could prove invaluable log points too against a team who had set their sights on going unbeaten at home this season, but who conspired against themselves by trying to run almost every ball at a defensive system that not for nothing is rated the best around. Indeed the folly of the Griquas approach can be read from the statistics – they won 65% of the possession in the match, and yet it was WP who dominated the territory battle.
That was an indication that Province were content to play Griquas into their own half in the knowledge that they never had enough variation to their game to get out of there. With almost no use of the boot to relieve the pressure, and with the WP defensive system seldom giving away many metres, certainly in the first hour, Griquas made it hard for themselves. They also made it hard for anyone who was hoping for an entertaining game!
And don’t be fooled by the narrowness of the scoreline – Province were ahead from the early minutes thanks to a long range try from their skipper Deon Fourie, who again led from the front, and they led 20-9 going into the last 10 minutes. The try to fullback PJ Vermeulen came on the final whistle, which effectively meant that by that stage the home team was only playing for the bonus point and Province had the four log points already banked.
It should never have turned out that way if Griquas just mixed up their game a bit more rather than just trying to run everything, as they did have significant advantages in several aspects of the game. Griquas may be without Lourens Adriaanse, who has gone with the Springboks to Argentina, but perhaps Ryno Barnes, a strong scrumming hooker, proved in this game that he may have had some influence on the burgeoning reputation of his tighthead prop.
WP dominated the scrums last week against the Cheetahs after being outplayed by the Blue Bulls the week before that, and in this game it was a reversion back to where they were in the opening weekend. Griquas appeared to have physical ascendancy at forward, and perhaps if they weren’t going to kick they could have made more use of their big men in the first half.
Province’s discipline was good early in the game but became a problem later, and they also made some poor unforced errors that prevented them from getting any momentum. For instance, flyhalf Kurt Coleman started the game by slotting the kick-off directly into touch, and then dropped a ball right under his own posts at the start of the second, followed some time later by a similar error from Nizaam Carr.
But it will be Griquas who will spend their Sunday lamenting the mistakes they made, for they certainly had enough ball to win the game had they taken some cognizance of the reality that in modern rugby it is often the team that kicks the most, and not the least, that walks away with the spoils. That was the case in this game.
It wasn’t a kick, but a long chest-burning run that put Province into the lead they held for most of the game, Juan de Jongh getting the ball to his skipper Fourie after Griquas had failed to control a 22 metre drop-out. From the loose scrum Fourie burst clear to run 60 metres down the touchline to only just beat the Griquas cover defenders as he slid over in the left corner.
It looked suspiciously like the ball may have been dislodged from Fourie’s hands before he crossed the line, but referee Sindile Mayende didn’t ask for the TMO to take a second look. Coleman’s excellent conversion made it 7-0, but there wasn’t much to shout about for anyone for the rest of the half, which was dominated by scrums being re-set and some pretty turgid rugby.
WP led 10-3 at halftime and might have opened more space on the scoreboard were it not for their decision to eschew three kickable penalties that they opted instead to set up lineouts from for the driving maul. In WP’s defence, one of those drives looked suspiciously like it had been brought down illegally by Griquas but Mayende ruled in the home team’s favour.
For a team that had so little ball, there were a few things about WP that were quite freaky. For instance, although they seldom got to carry, for a long time they had made more handling errors than Griquas. And then, even more freaky, they were also the team that had by far the most clear-cut chances to score tries.
Apart from those driving mauls, there was what looked a good try to Cheslin Kolbe, who chased down a kick ahead to score between the posts off one of those turn-over balls WP proved so adept at counter-attacking with, only for the TMO to rule that Juan de Jongh had been guilty of a dangerous tackle much earlier in the build-up.
That was halfway through the second half and allowed Griquas to hang in, but WP quickly made sure of the space they needed on the scoreboard, and in almost identical fashion. Bizarrely, this time it was big flanker Rynhardt Elstadt who put the ball onto his boot for a grubber that saw De Jongh come through and pick it up without any defender anywhere in sight.
Tiaan Liebenberg, on the field as a replacement, can be credited with effecting the turn-over that led to the try. That made it an 11 point game with 15 minutes to go and although Griquas did finish with a flourish, that was always going to be too much of a deficit to make up against the WP defence. By the time they did score a try, after a series of penalties in the corner, the hooter signaling the end of the game had already gone.
WP 20 – Tries: Deon Fourie and Juan de Jongh, Conversions: Kurt Coleman 2; Penalties: Kurt Coleman 2.
Griquas – 19 – Try: PJ Vermeulen, Conversion: DuRandt Gerger; Penalties: Nico Scheepers 4.