WP show some ‘NZ’ panache
JP du Plessis (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - They represent a region which features a controversially strong lobby of New Zealand rugby enthusiasts.
So there was perhaps some irony in the fact that Western Province, suddenly warming to their Currie Cup task after a slow start to the campaign, on Saturday night produced some of the inventiveness and unpredictable running lines that are hallmarks of the game in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Even the staunchest of WP fans would not have pitched up at Newlands for the visit of the Blue Bulls expecting them to hammer their old Highveld foes 42-6 and by a five-tries-to-nil margin.
The Bulls had arrived, after all, as something of a form team courtesy of registering 42 points of their own in an up-tempo triumph just a week earlier against the Sharks, last year’s losing finalists and the furthest-riding South African franchise in Super Rugby this season.
But the boot was dramatically on the other foot as Province played with rare zest and purpose for most of the 80 minutes to hand out a drubbing to Dewald Potgieter’s unsuspecting and strangely ramshackle outfit.
Fewer than 14 000 people turned out for the once-coveted north v south clash, although only those who determine the fixtures know why, when there are only two games on the Saturday, they are scheduled for respective 17:05 and chilly 19:10 slots rather than more spectator-friendly 15:00 and 17:05.
The loyal few got an overdue spectacle from the blue-and-white-hoops, who in their Super Rugby guise as the Stormers a few weeks earlier were often rightfully accused of dour, safety-first rugby despite a strong winning habit and second successive conference triumph.
It was quite illuminating to see Province players thinking outside the “template” and with midfielders Marcel Brache and JP du Plessis, for example, unleashing skilful offloads in the manner of Sonny Bill Williams and other All Black playmakers.
But WP also didn’t abandon their defensive structure, it must be said, and the Bulls found themselves up so many cul-de-sacs at times that, with less than half an hour to go and already 21 points adrift, their flyhalf Louis Fouche unbelievably opted for a close-range dropped goal which duly flew wide anyway.
This result has truly opened up the competition, just one round shy of the halfway mark in round-robin play.
You could argue that nobody wants the trophy... or should that rather read everybody?
Even Griquas, who bring up the rear on the six-team log, are only four points adrift of a “semi-final” placing as things stand, courtesy of their shock away victory over 2011 champions the Lions on Friday.
The table does have a reasonably familiar look to it, because the top four slots - respectively featuring the Sharks, WP (they‘ve soared three places), Cheetahs and Lions - are occupied by the very same sides who cracked last season’s final-four phase.
So there is just a bit of pressure mounting again on the Bulls not to miss the cut for a second year on the trot.
The stakes will be fairly high when they entertain the Lions in the cross-Hennops derby on Saturday, with both sides seeking redemption for this weekend’s near-fiascos.
Meanwhile the Sharks, despite a notably incomplete showing at home to the Cheetahs, can at least pat themselves on the back for a Houdini act which saw them come from a 21-6 interval deficit to grab the lead for the first time as late as the 77th minute and grab a full house of points at Mr Price Kings Park.
Sitting at the head of the standings and with away games against Province and the Bulls already behind them, the Durban-based team may well be best bets to enter the semis in late October in pole position.
Saturday’s programme (home teams first): Griquas v Sharks, 15:00; Blue Bulls v Lions, 17:05; Cheetahs v WP, 19:10.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing