Western Province completed one of the biggest upsets in the history of Absa Currie Cup finals when they took charge of the second half of a high-quality final at Kings Park to score a 25-18 victory over the heavily favoured Sharks.
The visitors scored the only try of the match and were thoroughly deserved victors as the capitalised on the momentum shift that they received courtesy of a brilliant Juan de Jongh try seven minutes before halftime that effectively swung the match their way.
WP had uncompromising, aggressive defence and a dominant lineout to thank for the victory, which ends 11 years of drought at Newlands when it comes to major trophies.
The last time WP won the Currie Cup was when they beat the Sharks in Cape Town in 2001, but given the youth in their team, it is unlikely they will have to wait so long before tasting more success.
Every person and their pet was betting on a Sharks win in front of their home crowd, and it was for good reason as the Sharks were much closer to full strength than the younger WP team, and they were also the form team in the competition.
But sport wouldn’t be sport if the form book didn’t sometimes get thrown out of the window, and like 1990, when Natal won for the first time, and 2005, when the Cheetahs shocked the Bulls, that is what happened here.
It was always possible WP might win if they really dug deep and just refused to lose, like they did when they beat the Bulls when they were injury-ridden as the Stormers at Loftus in Super Rugby.
In that match they just hung in and eventually snuck home. But in this game, despite the closeness of the final scoreline, the astounding thing was how emphatically the Sharks dominated the match once it had swung in their direction.
That swing came when De Jongh cut inside off flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis and beat two defenders as he weaved his way through 40 metres to score off a scrum that was set near the Sharks’ 10-metre line.
The Sharks had been leading 12-3 just six minutes earlier and everything seemed to be going according to script.
Their key players such as Patrick Lambie looked comfortable and composed, they enjoyed the better of the territory battle, and while there weren’t too many scrums in the first half hour, those that were set were dominated by the Sharks.
But Joe Pietersen had landed a long-range penalty shortly before that to cut the deficit to six, so Catrakilis's conversion of the De Jongh try put WP into the lead for the first time.
And they extended that lead to four points as Catrakilis kicked a penalty to complete an amazing turn-around in the last 10 minutes of the half as they went to the break 16-12 up.
Those are always said to be crucial minutes psychologically, and so it proved, for while the Sharks did come out and give it a good thrash in the first 10 minutes after halftime, and reclaimed the lead with a brace of Lambie penalties, there was a crucial area of the game where it was going horribly awry for the Sharks.
That was the lineout, which started okay for them but just got worse and worse as the game progressed, and they hardly won a lineout in the second half.
The swing in their direction seemed to imbue the WP players with extra energy, it was as if they had grown an extra arm and a leg, and suddenly even their scrum took control of that aspect of the game at crucial stages.
The Sharks faded badly, and didn’t look anything like the team that had been so good last week against the Bulls – but then you only play as well as you are allowed to.
And the simple truth is that WP, so determined to win, so bound together by their commitment to the team and the cause – something that they had advertised in neon lights at Ellis Park a week earlier – just took the game by the throat.
Suddenly it seemed as if the Sharks were just incapable of getting out of their half, and almost all the rugby in the last half hour was played in the Durban team’s territory.
WP had defended so well in the period after halftime when the Sharks really came at them, and they didn’t let that up when they were on the Sharks’ side of halfway.
WP made a couple of poor decisions when in the strike zone on attack around the hour mark that may have cost them another try, but a period of sustained pressure eventually forced the inevitable penalty, which Catrakilis kicked from in front with 16 minutes to go to take his team into a one point lead.
Then came two magical Catrakilis moments that secured it for the visitors, with the young pivot producing his finest performance of the season when it mattered most and setting a fitting seal on a WP career that now comes to an end as he prepares for his move to Port Elizabeth.
Catrakilis's tactical kicking played a massive part in the WP win, but the two drop-goals were the ones that ensured that the points difference would be a bridge too far for the Sharks.
The first came in the 67th minute and the second, a left footed stab, in the 76th, effectively ensured that the best the Sharks could do in the final plays was steal a draw and force the game into extra time by scoring a converted try.
They damn nearly did it too as they burst away down the right flank and a poor decision and misdirected final pass robbed them of what would surely have been a try under the posts.
For Deon Fourie's brave young team it was sweet revenge for what the Sharks had done to the Stormers in the Super Rugby semifinal, as well as for their defeat here in the 2010 final.
SHARKS – Penalties: Patrick Lambie (6)
WESTERN PROVINCE – Try: Juan de Jongh. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Drop Goals: Catrakilis (2). Penalties: Catrakilis (3), Joe Pietersen.