Vodacom Western Province trudged to a 23-7 (halftime 6-7) victory over the Boland Kavaliers in an Absa Currie Cup match in Wellington on Saturday afternoon.
Zelim Nel writes for SuperRugby that poor field conditions, the pre-match withdrawal of captain Jean de Villiers with a stomach bug and the pressure on Western Province to score four tries, conspired to destabilise the Cape Town outfit and ultimately cost them the all-important bonus point.
Given the context of the game, Boland’s patience, spoiling tactics and superb defensive resiliency proved to be an effective concoction for the home team, with the Kavaliers already resigned to a bottom-two finish and the visitors chasing the defending champion Cheetahs to clinch a playoff berth.
A jittery Western Province failed to convert their try-scoring opportunities and saw several promising offensive manoeuvres into Boland territory fizzle out because of unforced errors.
WP scored three tries through centre Sireli Naqelevuki (2) and number eight Luke Watson, while inside centre Morgan Newman slotted a conversion and flyhalf Peter Grant kicked a pair of penalties.
Winger Danwel Demas scored Boland’s only try and fullback Justin Peach converted.
Grant ‘s two penalties accounted for all of WP’s points in the first half despite the fact that they enjoyed 87% of the possession stakes and more than a two-thirds territorial advantage.
Naqelevuki bumbled a clear scoring opportunity on the half-hour mark with the try-line at his mercy. WP worked their way deep into the Kavaliers’ half before Grant spotted an absent fullback behind the defensive line and duly nudged a grubber through.
The Fijian gave chase and, with no tackler in sight, the super-sized centre just had to gather and ground the ball, but he somehow bungled the opportunity and Boland came away with a five-metre scrum.
And the severity of the miscue was further emphasised in the final minute of the half when Peach hoisted a high, hanging kick that was fielded just outside the WP 22 by fullback Conrad Jantjes.
The Kavaliers turned the ball over in the tackle and, with the security of a penalty-advantage, Boland captain Piet van Zyl scrambled blind from the ruck and chipped ahead, and Demas streaked onto the ball from the left wing to gather and score behind the uprights for an exciting try against the run of play.
Peach’s conversion gave the home team a one-point lead at the break.
Coach Allister Coetzee’s half-time talk had a telling effect as Western Province scored two tries in quick succession just after the restart to reclaim the lead.
Naqelevuki redeemed himself when he slipped a pair of tackles to dive over in the right-hand corner for the first try of the match two minutes into the third quarter.
A Kavaliers’ clearing kick was fielded by WP winger Wylie Human just outside the Boland 22, and he immediately spun the ball to midfield where Jantjes straightened the line, a quick recycle was sent to the blindside and prop JC Kritzinger found the Fijian on the wing.
Watson was driven over from a five-metre lineout for the visitors’ second try five minutes later and Newman converted to give WP an 11-point lead.
The home team were dealt a blow towards the end of the third quarter when referee Christie du Preez yellow-carded wing Deon Scholtz for repeated indiscretions by the Kavaliers at the breakdown.
But the visitors failed to punish the 14-man Boland team in the minutes that followed as the home team’s commitment in the tackle met with a steady trickle of unforced errors by WP.
The consistent pressure applied by Western Province did finally chip away at the home team’s defensive wall in the final quarter, and when Schalk Burger floated a push-pass over a defender just five metres from the line, Naqelevuki latched onto the ball to dive over for his second try with ten minutes remaining.
But when Western Province replacement scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenhage – who featured for Boland earlier in the competition as a loan player – dropped a pivot pass just metres from the try-line in the final minute of play, the visitors conceded possession as they squandered their last opportunity to claim a five-point haul against the Kavaliers in a result that will likely see them miss their chance to qualify for the semifinals.
The win sees WP end the weekend in fifth place with 36 log points, one point behind the Cheetahs.
Western Province will have to earn the bonus point against the Xerox Lions at home next week by a sufficient margin to negate the points-differential separating the Cape Town team from the Cheetahs.
They will also have to rely on the Free State team failing to score four-tries against Boland in Bloemfontein in order for them to sneak into the knockout stage of the competition.
TRIES: Sireli Naqelevuki (2), Luke Watson.
CONVERSION: Morgan Newman.
PENALTIES: Peter Grant (2).
TRY: Danwel Demas.
CONVERSION: Justin Peach.