Western Province secured their four-try bonus point before half-time en route to a 48-32 win over Griquas that ensures that the Cape team keep the pressure on the Sharks in the battle for top spot on the ABSA Currie Cup log.
The Sharks will go to Coca Cola Park to face the Lions on Saturday knowing that just three points separate them at the moment from second-placed WP, so they need to win to make sure the final league match between these sides here at Newlands in two weeks' time does not become a playoff for top spot.
The Sharks and the Bulls, who face WP next week, might have been filled with some apprehension had they watched the impressive Province start to the game. The hosts blitzed into a 22-3 lead after just 18 minutes and were 29-3 up at the break. At that stage it looked as though Griquas were headed for an even bigger defeat than the 50-3 reverse they suffered at the hands of these opponents in Kimberley.
However WP went off the boil after that, and Griquas fought back gamely to trail by just nine points before a late Adriaan Fondse try finally put the result beyond doubt. Griquas scored five tries in a second half that they won 29-19 and that has to be a concern to WP as they look forward to the matches against the Bulls and Sharks.
At the same time, maybe it was a timely wake-up call for them, for even in the periods where WP were so impressive with their willingness to take on their man, you got the impression they might be slipping into bad habits that better teams would punish.
Unfortunately for Griquas they fell behind so early in the game that they were forced to play catch-up and thus disregard their usual tactical approach, but they will be pleased with the five tries they scored against the best defensive team in the country.
It was a night for the wingers, with WP’s young JJ Engelbrecht confirming his arrival as a senior provincial player with a first half hat-trick, and Bjorn Basson responded with the same for Griquas after half-time.
Griquas came to Newlands desperate for the win that would keep alive their slender hopes of making the Currie Cup semifinals. Those hopes were extinguished within 18 minutes of the start, by which time Engelbrecht had scored twice and Jean de Villiers once to shoot Province into a 22-3 lead that was never going to be overhauled.
When Engelbrecht completed his hat-trick three minutes before the break, it secured the bonus point – and maybe it also set in motion the complacency that sent WP to sleep in the second half.
It was the third consecutive five log points win for WP, and while the rider should be added that it gets a lot tougher from here, the effectiveness of the WP attacking game should have brought some confidence flooding through them at an opportune time as they start to look ahead to next week’s trip to Loftus.
But while WP’s all-action style and run-from-almost-anywhere approach was a joy to watch and it worked wonders both against the Pumas and Griquas, if these two games have caused them to start picking up bad habits, then those could well come back to haunt them if they don’t tighten up ahead of the Bulls match.
Certainly there were times where WP were way too loose, and while Griquas were always too far behind to really threaten the home dominance on the scoreboard, the bulk of the second half should have been seen as a wake-up call for Province.
Of Engelbrecht’s three tries, the first one was the most impressive from an individual viewpoint as he out-paced the Griquas fullback down the right touchline after Gio Aplon had drawn the man perfectly to offer him the minimal amount of space he needed.
That was in the 10th minute, and was just a couple of minutes after Jean de Villiers had opened the try-scoring for Province by stepping his man after a long build-up in which WP had retained possession impressively as they took the ball through the phases. The build-up had started with an Anton van Zyl charge-down of a Griquas kick near the halfway.
WP moved the ball impressively through the hands in that first half, and they frequently had the Griquas defence stretched, with man-of-the-match Dewaldt Duvenage playing a pivotal role in it with his excellent service and pinpoint decision-making.
It was Duvenage in fact who set up Engelbrecht’s second try as he broke from a scrum and left the wing with little more to do than finish off. The bonus-point try came after a sustained build-up in which WP systematically sucked in the defenders before the ball went wide to Engelbrecht.
WP – Tries: JJ Engelbrecht 3, Jean de Villiers, Deon Fourie, Duane Vermeulen and Adriaan Fondse; Conversions: Willem de Waal 4 and Gary van Aswegan; Penalty: Willem de Waal.
Griquas – Tries: Bjorn Basson 3, Burger Schoeman and Jean Stemmet; Conversion: Naas Olivier and Rudi Vogt; Penalty: Naas Olivier.