The Toyota Free State XV shocked the unbeaten DHL Western Province side at the Green Point Athletics Stadium in Cape Town with a 26-20 (halftime 14-10) victory in the Supersport Rugby Challenge quarter final on Sunday.
Western Province, who had not lost a game in this competition since its inception in 2017, found the going tough against a physical and committed Free State side, who lost their way in the Rugby Challenge after winning its first six games on the trot.
With the lead changing hands on numerous occasions throughout the game, it was the home side who pressed hard in the closing moments of the game, looking for a score that could snatch victory from the jaws of death but astute defending from the visitors and errors from the home side cost the defending champions a chance at defending their title.
The men from Bloemfontein began the match the stronger of the two sides and raced into a 14-point lead courtesy of two converted tries through centre Carel Coetzee and Number 8 Jasper Wiese, who also scooped the man of the match award. Coetzee showed his power by breaking through a tackle and then barging over the tryline with a Province defender hanging onto his back after just five minutes.
Free State extended their lead just eight minutes later when Wiese made a barn-storming run down the middle of the park, breaking two tackles and then ignoring the three defenders trying to bring him down to score under the poles. Centre Benhrad Janse van Rensburg converted both efforts to give the visitors a 14-point lead after just 13 minutes.
Province though found their feet and started asserting themselves in the second half of the first stanza. But despite all their efforts and dominance, the home side could only account for three points from the boot of fullback Grant Hermanus. Free state were reduced to 14 men when lock Justin Basson was shown a yellow card for charging into a ruck with his shoulder with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
Province were able to use their one-man advantage to open their try account with centre David Brits going over under the poles after some excellent work from his partner Dan Kriel, who popped a pass to Number 8 Juarno Augustus, who burst down the left wing before offloading to Brits to run in for the score, which Hermanus converted to reduce the deficit to four points heading into the break.
Province seemed to have locked their sights on another victory in the competition when flyhalf Tristan Leyds picked up on a loose ball in midfield and then sprinted half the field, going outside of the defender to score Province’s second try of the afternoon in the right hand corner, with Hermanus slotting a difficult conversion in tricky conditions to give Province the lead for the first time in the match.
But Free State hit back just moments later Hermanus had his attempted clearance charged down by Janse van Rensburg, who chased to dot down for the visitors but with flyhalf Ernst Stapelberg missing the conversion attempt, the visitors held a slender two-point lead.
Moments later the men from Bloemfontein thought they had extended their lead with a brilliantly worked try but TMO Pro Legoeta overturned the try as Janse Van Rensburg was adjudged to have dropped the ball in making an attempted grubber kick.
Hermanus kicked his second penalty of the game to give Province a one-point lead heading into the final quarter of the game but Coetzee showed his power again for his second score as he drove through a tackle to score under the poles. Janse van Rensburg converted again to give the visitors a six-point lead, meaning Province would have to score a converted try to win the game.
Try as they might, the home side were unable to find a way through the Free State defense in the closing stages.