In the end there was no fond farewell and no closure. It was as if Western Province and their beloved Newlands were permanently parted by a pandemic.
WP simply seemed incapable of invoking the spirit of predecessors who so gloriously illuminated the Currie Cup at the famous ground. Instead the stage‚ perhaps fittingly with no-one in attendance‚ belonged to a team dressed in black‚ one better suited to the occasion.
The Sharks’ 19-9 Currie Cup semifinal victory left WP with distinctly more questions than answers and gave the Durban side a ticket to the competition’s blue-riband event in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Sharks travelled to Newlands as underdogs, but they again rose splendidly to the challenge. The visiting pack more than quelled the WP forward unit to lay the platform for their “smash-and-grab” win on Saturday.
The Sharks played much of the game on the back foot and absorbed all WP could throw before delivering sharp‚ telling body blows to their cumbersome hosts.
Giant Sharks lock JJ van der Mescht barged over with seven minutes to go to seal WP’s fate‚ but by then the stuffing had been kicked out of the hosts by Curwin Bosch‚ who contributed 14 points.
He was always going to be central to their cause‚ but it was the devilishly defiant display of forwards Ox Nche‚ Dylan Richardson and Sikhumbuzo Notshe that helped set the tone.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt lauded the performance of his big men. They travelled to Newlands armed with the prerequisite that the WP big men need to be put down.
“We spoke for the last two weeks that the game would be won upfront‚” said Everitt. “I am just proud of our guys and how they adapted to the plans they had in the different aspects of the game‚ two of them being scrumming and stopping mauls.”
They more or less held their own in the former, which also happened to be WP’s sharpest tool this season. To be fair‚ the hosts were without the experience and grunt of Steven Kitshoff.
The Sharks’ maul defence was also on point and at one stage repelled five visiting drives for the line.
“We managed to negate their strength. I am absolutely proud of the guts the guys showed in executing that plan‚” Everitt noted.
The Sharks now get a crack at glory at Loftus Versfeld where Jake White has set about refortifying the fortress. The Bulls are on the run again and will require some stopping.
“I am happy that the players are going to have the opportunity to play in a final‚” said Everitt.
“Super Rugby last year is long gone. I still feel we aren’t playing as well as we did back then. This game showed that when you have a plan and the guys stick to it‚ they get results. I am exceptionally happy for the guys‚ for the effort they put in‚ during a difficult and challenging season.”
Everitt was under no illusion that his team will have to sharpen up in some areas if they are going to keep the Bulls at bay in the final.
“Yes‚ there were mistakes. It was part of our plan to put the ball in the air and put their back three under pressure‚ which I think we did well. At times we won some important scraps on the ground.”
For Western Province there will be much to lament before they enter European competition in the guise of the Stormers. Though they are proficient at securing first-phase ball‚ the finesse‚ guile and imagination to build on those foundations have often escaped them this season.
Some of their star players barely twinkled in the semi — Siya Kolisi and Herschel Jantjies operated far from the heights that helped make the Springboks world champions in Japan.
As sombre as the occasion probably was for coach John Dobson‚ it must be equally sobering now for the suits who run the union.
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