DHL Western Province surged back to the top of the Absa Currie Cup log at the halfway point of competition as they scored a richly deserved 25-19 win over The Sharks at Newlands on Saturday.
The hosts were never headed in the match as finally they perfected the art of leading from the front and staying there. But they still should be dissatisfied with the way they allowed the Sharks to fight their way back to grab an unlikely bonus point, scoring three tries in the last 22 minutes.
It wasn’t enough to close a gap that was as wide as 20 points with a quarter of an hour remaining, but that given away bonus point might come back to haunt WP if the second round of this competition is as tightly contested as the first was.
But at least the WP supporters will be pleased that this time their team closed out the win. Even when they were leading 15-0 at halftime you sensed that the Province supporters were still fidgety, as the gap was exactly the same as it was when WP played the Lions at Ellis Park the previous week.
On that occasion the Lions came back to share the spoils, as did the Bulls in a similar situation in the opening match. This time though the second half fade, such as it was, came too late to save the Sharks, who slumped to their second defeat of the season and surrendered top spot.
They will feel consoled by that bonus point though, as it means WP lead by only one point going into the second half of the season.
The Durbanites weren’t helped by four successive lineouts that were either poached by WP or thrown skew in the middle stages of the second half when they were trying to launch their fightback. As the match wore on, they were also destroyed in the set-scrums, where Province just got more and more dominant.
You can’t launch a successful fightback when you’re struggling in the set-phases, and then there was the swarming defence which WP and their other identity as the Stormers are so renowned for.
So strong had the WP line of defenders been on the gainline up to that point, that it came as something of a surprise when Sharks wing Lwazi Mvovo heaved his way through some would be tacklers to score the visiting team’s first try in the 58th minute.
About 10 minutes later Sharks skipper Jacques Botes won the benefit of a lengthy TMO deliberation after a ball was dotted down in a melee between the WP posts, but between those scores Province had effectively made the game safe when after a strong run from replacement flyhalf Gary van Aswegen, fullback Gio Aplon ghosted his way through the middle to score one of his trademark tries to make it a 20 point cushion.
Given that they had three tries with well over a quarter of an hour to play, WP might be excused if they kick themselves again, this time for not notching the bonus point try. It certainly looked possible on a few occasions and WP spent the bulk of the last part of the game deep on attack, but they were let down by poor handling and finishing.
WP signaled their intent early with a cross field sweep started by a Gerhard van den Heever breakout that forced a penalty that Kurt Coleman kicked to make it 3-0.
A few minutes later Cheslin Kolbe produced a thrilling run down the touchline that was ruled out by the TMO, but in the 17th minute Juan de Jongh got it right when he slid over in the same corner, and then it was the turn of Kolbe to cross for the second try.
In both those scores hooker Scarra Ntubeni figured strongly, with his long pass that put Koble in being a particular gem.
DHL Western Province 25 – Tries: Juan de Jongh, Cheslin Kolbe and Gio Aplon; Conversions: Kurt Coleman and Gary van Aswegen; Penalties: Coleman 2.
Sharks 19 – Tries: Lwazi Mvovo, Jacques Botes and Kyle Cooper; Conversions: Fred Zeilinga 2.