WP recapture home mojo
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - It had been an uncertain few weeks at Newlands, but Western Province fans suddenly got more than their money’s worth as the side sparkled in an unexpectedly sound disposal of the Blue Bulls in the Absa Currie Cup on Saturday.
Province, last year’s runners-up, certainly re-announced themselves as likely strong candidates for the trophy all over again in a 35-7, bonus-point victory over the old foes in ideal, mild conditions at the venue.
It was just the tonic long-suffering Capetonian rugby lovers needed, considering that either the Stormers, in the later stages of Super Rugby, or WP had not exactly had things their own way there since early May.
The Stormers did eventually end a praiseworthy second on the overall Super Rugby table ahead of the finals series, but Newlands - a little strangely considering the great gates it tends to get - has not exactly seen plain home-town sailing in the period mentioned.
First the Stormers lost 20-14 to the Crusaders in a “league” fixture on May 7, just ahead of their overseas tour, and then it was the turn of the very Bulls to pip them 19-16 nearer the end of the regular programme.
Having secured a precious home semi-final, the Crusaders then visited the stadium again and basically bombed Schalk Burger’s team off the park.
Plus the opening fixture in the Currie Cup at Newlands more recently saw WP held to a ho-hum draw by moderate Griquas.
So more satisfying service was finally restored for their ever-passionate supporters with this handsome, up-tempo triumph by four tries to one.
It was almost as if someone had slipped a little extra “something” into their breakfast cereal on Saturday because Province were significantly fired-up right from the kick-off with a focused, in-your-face approach from the pack collectively and a fresh desire among the backs to work the ball through hands with intent.
The latter part was an important development, bearing in mind that some critics have not been slow to point out that attacking gusto out wide - a time-honoured Newlands tradition - had appeared to be in some measure of decline.
Province never really eased this grip on things, either, even if both teams’ admirably resilient and organised defences were tested to the full at times.
Hard yards were done at the outset for WP by the likes of Springbok Hilton Lobberts, the utility forward (now finding a more regular home at lock, it seems) who once earned his bread for the Bulls and had seemed to be a waning, injury-plagued force for two or three seasons back in the Cape.
But he has come alive with a vengeance in this year’s Currie Cup and the 25-year-old smashed into contact with relish again on Saturday; he also did his bit to ensure clean lineout ball.
Led by the bellicose example of restored hooker (and captain) Tiaan Liebenberg, most of the other WP tight forwards came to the party as well, and this front-foot situation allowed the likes of Siya Kolisi and Nick Koster, just behind them, to show off their skills as offensive weaponry.
Helping the team dynamic a great deal was another assured and constructive showing from the young UCT pivot Demetri Catrakilis - not only decent off the kicking tee but a snappy distributor and resolute little tackler when required to do some dirtier work.
The Bulls have slipped back toward the nether regions of the table and must now brace themselves for a cross-Hennops derby on Saturday against the unbeaten Lions at Loftus, while WP go to Bloemfontein to play a Cheetahs team smarting from successive, high-scoring losses.
It is a bit of a blessing, considering current angst at national level, that there have been more good features than bad to the first three weeks of Currie Cup activity.
Crowds have been OK and the competition looks like being characterised by better strength versus strength than before in 2011, with even the basement Leopards showing some bottle in the fright they gave the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday before succumbing.
Next week’s programme (home teams first):
Friday: Leopards v Pumas, Griquas v Sharks.
Saturday: Cheetahs v Western Province, Blue Bulls v Lions.