DHL Western Province began the defence of their Currie Cup crown with a convincing shutout of the Toyota Free State Cheetahs, claiming a bonus-point 32-0 (halftime 13-0) victory at a sodden DHL Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday evening.
Newlands provided a reminder of what Kings Park looked like during South Africa’s 1995 World Cup semi final against France, with a fierce downpour in the 50th minute turning the second oldest rugby stadium in the world, to a sodden mud bath. But the hosts kept their heads, scoring four tries to register a bonus point and open their defence on a winning note.
The first half was dour with both sides only providing three real opportunities to score with the Cheetahs creating the first opening with a burst down the middle of the park but poor handling brought an end to the effort. The home side created their own but over eagerness resulted in referee AJ Jacobs penalising the defending champions at ruck time.
SP Marais produce a really good display with the boot, considering the conditions, slotting four kicks from seven attempts. The fullback, who landed the man of the match award for his efforts at the back, gave the home side an early lead with his first penalty after lock JD Schickerling had been sent to the bin for a dangerous tackle on centre Nico Lee after just five minutes.
Marais missed his second attempt in the swirling wind a while later but then double Western Province’s lead shortly after Schickerling had returned to the field. The home side rounded off the first half with the match’s opening try through centre Ruhan Nel, after Province had worked the ball to the right of the field after securing a lineout just five meters out, with Nel stepping inside the defence to score.
Free State came out in the second stanza looking to get back into the match but it was the home team who turned up the tempo. Scrumhalf Jano Vermaak kicked towards the right hand corner with captain Dillyn Leyds giving chase and forcing the Free State defence to concede a scrum just five meters from their tryline.
Province worked the ball to the left of the field and after numerous phases, recycled the ball with Number 8 Juarno Augustus beating off four defenders to score a powerful try, which Marais converted to give the hosts a comfortable 20-point lead after 48 minutes.
Then the heavens opened and it seemed that WP knew just how to play while the Free Staters looked like deers caught in a headlight. Province produced another lineout five meters from the visiting tryline and hooker Scarra Ntubeni controlled well at the back of the resulting maul to score his side’s third try of the evening. Marais was unable to convert from a tight angle with WP leading 25-0.
Free State, who struggled with their set pieces all evening, losing six lineouts and a scrum, found themselves on the backfoot again midway through the second stanza as Province produced a wonderful counter-attack, started by replacement wing, Sergeal Petersen.
The former Free State winger collected the ball inside his own 22m area and burst up the field, linking with Augustus who cut inside and beat a few defenders. Petersen collected the ball again and burst for the line but was brought down short but Schickerling made up for his earlier yellow card, collecting from the back of the ruck and powering over the line for the bonus-point try.
The Cheetahs tried and tried in the final 20 minutes to put some points on the board but poor handling from the resulting conditions, prevented them from crossing the line with WP turning ball over and producing counter-attack after counter-attack.
The Cheetahs have now lost both their opening games and remain bottom of the log in the shortened Currie Cup format and with the Pro 14 starting soon, the men from Bloemfontein will find life difficult in making the semi finals. The defending champions on the other hand will be buoyed by their performance in the torrential rain while taking maximum points to leave them top of the standings.
Province travel to Nelspruit next Friday to take on the iCollege Pumas while the Cheetahs host the Cell C Sharks at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein next Saturday.