One Springbok who clearly doesn’t mind being back on South African soil is Vodacom Western Province wing Gio Aplon, who showed his class and his paces to help his team to a convincing 54-13 Absa Currie Cup win over the Pumas at Newlands on Friday night.
The Pumas, who have a lot more structure in their game under Jimmy Stonehouse than they used to, looked like they were doing okay until a two minute try-scoring blitz from Aplon effectively put them out of the game going into the last five minutes of the first half.
Pieter Louw had scored the first try in the 26th minute, so it left Province with just one more try to score for their bonus point -- and they never wasted any time in doing it, with skipper Anton van Zyl bursting through off a short pass from scrumhalf Conrad Hoffmann to score near the corner flag.
WP had taken until the third minute of the second half to secure the bonus point the previous week, and this time they were three minutes the other side of half-time, meaning that they were six minutes quicker to the mark against the Pumas than they had been against the Leopards.
It hadn’t looked like being that way, but these days the WP team is as good as it is clever, and the first 25 minutes of fairly direct rugby paid off in the last quarter hour of the half as the Pumas were duped into allowing them the space the WP backs needed to spin the ball wide.
Good running and passing was a feature of both Aplon’s tries, but in both he also had a significant amount of work still to do when he got the ball. In the first, in the 32nd minute, five would be tacklers failed to lay a hand on him, and in his second he had to race the cover defence to the corner flag as he scorched up the right touchline.
Louw’s first try -- he also dotted down off a lineout drive in the second -- was the product of a series of direct forward drives during a multi-phase buildup in which little breaks from Hoffmann were an important feature of the breaking down of the Pumas defence.
Like a top batsman building a test innings, there was something methodical about the way WP created their platform. But that is not to say the Pumas did not have their moments, and they shocked WP with two quick tries in the second half that brought a little bit of respectability to their score.
They were pressing on the full-time whistle, and their scrum also gave Province something to think about, so it was not all in vain for the visitors from Witbank and the lowveld. Should they eradicate some of the unnecessary errors from their game, they might go somewhere.
WP’s game was also not error-free, and there were a tad too many unforced errors in the first quarter and again in the third quarter, where WP seemed to lose a bit of focus.
WP coach Allister Coetzee, as he said he would, used the second half as an opportunity to give youngsters like Lionel Cronje, Louis Schreuder and JJ Engelbrecht a chance to experience rugby at Currie Cup level. Cronje grabbed an intercept try, while Engelbrecht showed his paces and finishing ability to take Province beyond the 50 mark.
The win retains WP’s unbeaten record, with their second consecutive full house of log points ensuring that they will end the weekend on top of the Currie Cup log for the third week in succession. A bigger test lies ahead though in the form of Griquas in Kimberley next week followed by the Bulls and the Sharks.
Western Province – Tries: Pieter Louw 2, Gio Aplon 2, Anton van Zyl, Lionel Cronje and JJ Engelbrecht; Conversions: Willem de Waal 3 and Lionel Cronje 2; Penalties: Willem de Waal 3.
Pumas – Tries: Shaun Venter and Torsten van Jaarsveld; Penalty: Elgar Watts.