Vodacom Western Province battled their way to a 14-6 (halftime 7-0) victory over the Xerox Lions in an Absa Currie Cup match in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon.
Though win lifts Western Province to 40 points on the standings, it’s insufficient to edge the Lions (41) out of fourth place and the Cape Town-based team have consequently missed their chance to qualify for the semi-finals.
Zelim Nel writes for SuperRugby that missed chances featured prominently as the home team committed countless unforced errors, exercised woeful option-taking at crucial moments and conceded numerous turnovers at the tackle point.
The home team’s urgency for a four-try, 19-point victory allowed the Lions to approach this decisive encounter like a boxer leading on points in the final round of an important bout.
The visitors chose not to engage WP in a toe-to-toe slug-fest, opting rather to hold the home team at arms-length with a conservative kicking game, complemented by rugged defence and a commitment to stealing or slowing possession at the point of contact.
“They had nothing to lose by conceding penalties, and we had loads of scoring opportunities that we didn’t convert into tries,” said WP captain Jean de Villiers after the game.
Western Province scored two tries through flanker Luke Watson and captain Jean de Villiers while flyhalf Peter Grant and winger Joe Pietersen each added a conversion.
Earl Rose’s two penalties accounted for all of the Lions’ points.
The first half was littered with tactical kicks as the home team tried to lure the Lions into a running game with an intentionally slow kick-chase. But the visitors did well to stick to their game plan and merely manoeuvred into position to return the kick downfield.
Western Province launched a number of promising counter-attacks, but their momentum was repeatedly halted by poor decision-making as forced passes were fumbled or intercepted by a blanketing Lions’ defence, or turned-over whenever runners found themselves isolated.
The home team chose to hoof four first-half penalties into touch from kickable positions on the field after referee Craig Joubert punished the Lions for a string of infringements at the breakdown in the first quarter.
But in the absence of lock Adrian Fondse, WP’s lineout wilted under the close scrutiny of the Lions’ contesters, and good field-position never converted into points.
In the final minute of the first half, Joubert inevitably yellow-carded centre Doppies la Grange for intentionally playing the ball on the ground, and Western Province took advantage.
Lock Andries Bekker won the ball at the ensuing five-metre lineout and Luke Watson broke from the back of the driving maul to charge over scrumhalf Jano Vermaak for a short-range try in the right-hand corner as the half-time siren sounded, and Grant converted to give the home team a seven-point lead at the break.
The second half was a carbon copy of the first, with the Lions loose trio feasting on desperate WP runners, and Rose and Vermaak putting turnover possession to good use by forcing the home team to restart deep in their half.
Rose opened the fourth quarter with a simple penalty, but the Lions’ concentration began to waver as they eyed the possibility of winning the match. De Villiers made the visitors pay when he ended a promising foray into WP’s 22 by intercepting a pass from replacement flyhalf Louis Strydom for an 80-metre try against the run of play.
Pietersen drop-kicked the conversion as the home team clicked into a higher level of desperation in the final minutes. But when Rose slowed proceedings down to slot his second penalty-kick with two minutes remaining, it was clear that Western Province were not going to achieve their objective.
The Lions will face the Sharks in the first semi-final in Durban next week, while the Blue Bulls host the Free State Cheetahs in Pretoria.
WP – Tries: Luke Watson, Jean de Villiers. Conversion: Peter Grant, Joe Pietersen.
Lions – Penalties: Earl Rose (2).Tweet