DHL Western Province survived an off-night, but only just, as they eked out a 19-13 win over GWK Griquas at Newlands that keeps them at the top of the Absa Currie Cup log with three matches to play.
Province, having dug deep to beat the Bulls at Loftus with just 14 men on the field the week before, looked as though they lacked focus, and although they dominated possession in the first half and for much of the second, they lacked the intensity needed to sustain pressure and build a point scoring platform.
But it did look as though WP had recovered from their lazy start and were en route to a close but relatively safe win when they were camped in Griquas territory with just three minutes to go. That changed though with a Jean Stemmet intercept that nearly led to a try, and then came four agonising minutes for WP fans as Griquas camped on the Province line.
By the time the ball was eventually turned over under the WP posts and the hosts kicked it dead, it must have felt to the home team that those minutes of Griquas pressure were more like hours.
It certainly wasn't WP’s best night, but they did deserve to win as they had most of the play.
It wasn’t that WP didn’t win enough ball, they won plenty, and the halftime statistics reflected that 75% of the possession to that point had been commanded by De Kock Steenkamp’s team.
That they were behind on the scoreboard was because they made too many handling mistakes, the forwards didn’t work hard enough to ensure they were in position to do the dirty work when it came to protecting possession, and they didn’t take their point scoring opportunities when they came.
Apart from the decisions not take two shots at post on a night where surely going for the three pointer was a no-brainer, there was a dropped ball when WP were trying to set up a lineout drive, and other elementary mistakes like that.
Griquas didn’t have much ball but they made maximum use of a poor WP start, with abysmal handling of the kick-off by the home side leading to a scrum and a scrum penalty that Francois Brummer kicked to give his team a 3-0 lead.
WP dominated enough after that to strike back with two Kurt Coleman penalties to take a 6-3 lead, but then came a Gouws Prinsloo chip that fell behind the Province defenders and wing Nico Scheepers was through into the space to pick up and slide over for the try.
Then came one of those yellow cards that seem to be blighting the modern game, with Gerhard van den Heever, the WP wing, being sent for a 10 minute cool off period seven minutes before halftime after the TMO decided to alert the onfield referee to what supposedly was a closed fist hand-off.
Dangerous hand-offs appear to be becoming the new rage to take over from dangerous tackles among officials who feel that their night isn't complete if they haven’t had a hand in the direction of the game.
Griquas didn’t score points while Van den Heever was off, and in the early parts of the second half WP started to play the right type of rugby and set up camp in Griquas territory.
Clearly there had been words at the break as when the first penalty came it was kicked even though it was from a position far more difficult than the two earlier kickable attempts that were eschewed. That cut the Griquas lead to one, and the more patient and efficient build-up work being exhibited by WP looked like it might just lead to a try.
When it did it was scrumhalf Nic Groom who went over near the posts after a multi-phase build-up and WP were into a lead they were not to relinquish. It was a miserable night, with torrential rain falling at stages of the second half, and at precisely the moment that Scheepers was lining up what should have been an easily kickable penalty but it went wide.
It was that sort of night – a night for bad weather and small margins. Province did enough to win, and had the superior lineout throughout plus the ascendancy in the scrums when they weren’t giving away penalties, which was far too often for the comfort of the shivering Newlands faithful.
WP - Try: Nic Groom; Conversion: Kurt Coleman; Penalties: Kurt Coleman (3), Demetri Catrakilis.
Griquas - Try: Nico Scheepers; Conversion: Nico Scheepers; Penalties: Francois Brummer, Gouws Prinsloo.