Vodacom Western Province retained their unbeaten record in this year’s Vodacom Cup when flyhalf Isma-eel Dollie kicked a last-minute penalty to sink the Vodacom Blue Bulls 37-35 (halftime 19-25) in a match played at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
The lead changed umpteen times in an enterprising yet error-strewn match before man-of-the-match Dollie, who finished with a personal haul of 27 points, condemned the home side to their second defeat of the season with a nerveless kick at the death following a high tackle by the otherwise impressive Bulls captain Carel Hoffman.
WP were outscored by five tries to three but it was Dollie’s boot that made all the difference on a pitch tailor-made for running rugby.
The visitors made their expansive intentions clear early on when left wing Zhahier Ryland sparked an electric counter-attack in the ninth minute from close to his goalline.
The ball went through a number of pairs of hands as the streeptruie surged upfield before the Bulls were penalised, allowing Dollie to slot his second penalty of the day to open up a 6-0 lead.
The Bulls struck back immediately when centre Braam Gerber dived over in the right-hand corner following a full backline movement in which right wing Johan Jackson made the space for his centre partner to score.
Jackson’s wing partner Rocco Jansen, the top try-scorer in the competition with eight touchdowns before this match, then helped the Bulls to take the lead in the 15th minute when he benefited from Gerber’s strength and distribution skills to dot down in the left-hand corner.
Gerber however went from hero to villain five minutes later when he was yellow-carded by referee Stuart Berry for a professional foul, allowing Dollie to cut the lead to 10-9 with his third penalty. The ice-cool No 10 then kicked his fourth penalty three minutes later to regain the lead for WP.
The advantage on the scoreboard proved to be short-lived, however, as Jansen sped over for his second try on the half-hour mark following a strong run by Jackson down the left-hand touchline. Flyhalf Burton Francis kicked the conversion to make it 17-12 to the hosts.
Dollie then showed off his running skills when he sold an outrageous dummy in the 33rd minute to dot down under the posts without a hand being laid on him.
The Bulls bounced back two minutes later when Francis succeeded with a penalty to make it 20-19, after WP hooker Hanyani Shimange was yellow-carded for slowing down the ball.
The sparse Loftus crowd then watched as their side grabbed the bonus point in the 38th minute when Jackson showed off his strength and sidestepping skills to carry WP fullback Wylie Human over the line with him to make it 25-19.
Francis extended the Bulls’ lead to 28-19 a minute after the break with an easy penalty before Jackson scored his second try of the afternoon in the 45th minute.
Francis added the two points to open up a 16-point lead and threaten a runaway victory for the home side over their traditional rivals.
But it was not to be, as WP staged a memorable fightback that started when centre and former SA Under-19 skipper PJ Vermeulen scored his side’s second try in the left-hand corner.
Dollie nearly scored his second try two minutes later when he rounded Tiger Mangweni, only to see the Bulls fullback punch the ball out of his hands as he dived over the line.
But the outside half made up for his blooper when he kicked his fifth penalty after Bulls scrumhalf JP Joubert received a yellow card, to cut the deficit to just eight points.
The Bulls were then reduced to 13 men when lock Juandré Kruger was sin-binned on the hour-mark following yet another professional foul, allowing Vermeulen to score his second try near the posts to make it a one-point game and set up a nerve-wracking final quarter.
The Bulls came back strongly but no sooner had Joubert returned to the field than hooker Brett Sharman was given a ten-minute break by referee Berry after a spear tackle on Human.
Province had a number of chances to win it at the death but once again a combination of shaky hands and poor option-taking looked to have dashed their chances against a Bulls side clearly waiting for the hooter to sound.
The home side seemed to have done just enough to scrape home before No 8 Hoffman was blown for a high tackle, allowing Dollie to seal the win with his sixth penalty and give WP the self-belief that they may just have what it takes to go all the way this year — if they can sort out their butter-fingers, that is.
Vodacom Blue Bulls 35 – Tries: Braam Gerber, Rocco Jansen (2), Johan Jackson (2). Conversions: Burton Francis (2). Penalties: Francis (2).
Vodacom Western Province 37 – Tries: Isma-eel Dollie, PJ Vermeulen (2). Conversions: Dollie (2). Penalties: Dollie (6).