The phrase “being sent packing” was given new meaning by DHL Western Province at Newlands on Saturday night as they sent the Toyota Free State Cheetahs into the zone where the perils of promotion become a reality.
WP, with seven Springboks back, were always going to be favoured to win, and the result was never in doubt as they romped home 36-15 in front of a crowd that was bigger than has been average for Currie Cup rugby this season but was by no means the resounding vote for full-strength rugby that might have been anticipated.
As a result of this five try to two romp, WP ended third on the Currie Cup log and in so doing booked themselves a flight to Johannesburg for next week’s semifinal against the Lions.
That was where they came unstuck at the same stage last year, but the difference between then and now was that the returning Boks 12 months ago were a bit stunned by their World Cup exit.
They don’t have quite the same psychological baggage to carry around with them now, and they look more business-like and determined. The Currie Cup definitely isn’t what it used to be, but a trophy would at least get the monkey off the WP backs.
There were times in the first half that the hosts weren’t direct enough and that was the reason why they looked like they were making heavy weather of the task at that stage.
Not that they were ever threatened in the match, with flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis putting them into a 3-0 lead that they would never relinquish with a third-minute penalty, before returning captain Jean de Villiers scored a highly popular try in the corner in the ninth to make it 8-0.
The try was the product of the sort of play that would have had the Newlands patrons falling off their seats in shock had it happened during Super Rugby.
It was the product of a sustained and prolonged multi-phase attack that swept this way and that across the field, but was given its impetus by a clever kick over the advancing Cheetahs defenders from the right touchline that was picked up by scrumhalf Nic Groom.
The move had been on the go for a while already, and it was to go through several more phases before finally De Villiers went in, but it was a score that was on the cards the moment Groom found himself in space.
The Cheetahs did have their moments, and perhaps WP were a bit guilty of falling into the trap of trying to play it their way.
Nico Scheepers missed a penalty in the first quarter before landing one in the 20th minute, and there was one excellent attacking movement in which Sias Ebersohn chipped over the WP backs to set up Hennie Danniller, with the score only being prevented by an excellent try-saving tackle from behind by that busy-as-a-bee Springbok, Bryan Habana.
It was still a close game as the half hour mark neared, but then WP surprised the Cheetahs by taking a quick tap from a penalty awarded almost in front of the posts, and big Andries Bekker went over for a try that the TMO awarded after lengthy deliberation.
And three minutes before the break WP pretty much wrapped up their third-place finish when, from an attacking lineout, a driving maul deposited Deon Fourie over the line.
Fourie was of course the captain before De Villiers returned and he is enjoying a great season, so it was fitting that he should complete a great field day for himself by breaking a few tackles up the middle before going in for the fourth try.
It was the bonus-point score, and although it was an unnecessary one because WP just needed to win, it will nonetheless serve as a confidence booster.
The Boks did make their mark, and none more so than the second row, with Eben Etzebeth winning the official man of the match award. The big man certainly does make a massive difference when he is present.
But then so does Duane Vermeulen, and as WP go into the play-offs, perhaps it should be remembered that the No 8's physical presence hasn’t been there when WP and the Stormers have failed at the knock-out hurdle over the past 16 months.
The former Free Stater celebrated his return to the Cape side with the fifth try, going over near the posts with around a quarter of the match left to give his team a 36-3 lead.
At that stage a score beyond the 50 mark looked distinctly possible but the Cheetahs came back well in the last quarter to score consolation tries through Francois Uys and Philip Snyman that gave the scoreboard some respectability.
But with the Lions/Bulls match in Johannesburg still to come, the Bloemfontein team was hovering perilously close to the relegation zone as the league part of their Currie Cup season ended.
DHL WESTERN PROVINCE – Tries: Jean de Villiers, Andries Bekker, Deon Fourie (2), Duane Vermeulen; Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis (4); Penalty: Catrakilis.
TOYOTA FREE STATE CHEETAHS – Tries: Francois Uys, Philip Snyman; Conversion: Sias Ebersohn; Penalty: Nico Scheepers.