DHL Western Province soaked up everything the Vodacom Blue Bulls could throw at them before striking twice in exceptional fashion in the second half to score an inspiring 23-18 win in their Absa Currie Cup match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
In the process Province underlined their status at the top of the log, and as favourites to take the title this year, extending their unbeaten run against the Blue Bulls to more than two years now.
And while the Blue Bulls put up a much better performance than their 41-13 loss at Newlands a fornight ago, the loss leaves them with just one victory at the end of the first round of Currie Cup action from four games and in a deep hole if they want to try and make the playoffs of the competition.
Coach Frans Ludeke will once again be blaming a lack of execution as five visits to the opposition 22 led to turnovers to Province when they were in good attacking positions.
But in a game that was exciting from the opening whistle and where both sides looked to attack at every opportunity, the Blue Bulls will feel rather aggrieved they didn’t get a win on their home ground and will watch as the pressure continues to ramp up on them.
Not so for Province, whose double strike just after the hour mark effectively settled the game and had both their star players, Seabelo Senatla and Cheslin Kolbe, playing prominent roles.
This while the Blue Bulls struggled at flyhalf with a visibly nervous Joshua Stander struggling with his game, and the same predictability hampering their attacks. The one thing the Blue Bulls could feel proud about was their scrums though.
After conceding five scrum penalties at the hands of Western Province at Newlands, they were totally dominant in the set-piece, securing three penalties for their efforts.
After the Blue Bulls butchered several scoring opportunities in the first half, and Nick Groom lost the ball over the line in the best Province attack, it was left to Kurt Coleman to slot the first points of the match in the 34th minute.
A few minutes later Stander missed an easy opportunity in front of the posts, and the Blue Bulls had to be content to end the half behind on the scoreboard.
PACE THE DIFFERENCE
Demetri Catrakilis added a second penalty early in the second half before the Blue Bulls finally got some reward for their consistent attacks.
After a great break from Jesse Kriel, who has grown in stature with every appearance, the recycled ball found a flying Jacques du Plessis, who bumped off Nizaam Carr with ease to run in for the home team's opening try.
Tian Schoeman announced his arrival on the field with a penalty to stretch the Bulls' lead to four points.
The joy was short lived as just before the hour mark Province ripped the game away from the Blue Bulls with a pinpoint move from a lineout where Kobus van Wyk scored in the corner.
The beauty of the move involved two inside passes, the crucial one from Jaco Taute to Senatla before the speedster sent the ball to captain Juan de Jongh to unload Van Wyk into space to score.
Three minutes later it was Kolbe who turned a nothing ball into something special as he ran cross field before finding Taute, who sent the ball to Senatla in space, and with the afterburners on there was little the Blue Bulls could do as Senatla first burned Schoeman with a show and go, then bounced Kriel off in a tackle before Akona Ndungane finally ankle tapped him as he crossed the line for a sensational score.
It was a show of pace that was the difference between the sides, especially as it seemed the Blue Bulls needed to labour for any points while Province could literally score from anywhere.
Schoeman brought the home side back within seven with a penalty but it was negated nine minutes from the end by a similar strike by Coleman, with the Blue Bulls heading into the final moments of the game ten points behind.
They produced a beautiful flow of phases, from a lineout to three quick recycled balls before the pill was sent to Kriel in a skip pass, with the fullback popping the ball to Sampie Mastriet, who beat Van Wyk and then went over the line with a desperate Kolbe clinging to him.
Five points to go and the Bulls inexplicably kicked the ball away, but luckily won it against the throw in the lineout, setting up a massive final phase of play.
They attacked the Province line with glee, but eventually made a mistake as William Small-Smith knocked on in the final move to end the game, and hand Province a good victory.
Blue Bulls 18 (0): Tries: Jacques du Plessis, Sampie Mastriet. Conversions: Joshua Stander. Penalties: Tian Schoeman.
Western Province 23 (3): Tries: Kobus van Wyk, Seabelo Senatla.
Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis (2) Penalties: Kurt Coleman (2), Dimitri Catrakilis.