Currie Cup

WP’s triumph of the spirit

2012-10-27 22:00
Juan de Jongh (Gallo)
Cape Town – Western Province, the newly-crowned 2012 Currie Cup champions, have now won the prestigious trophy 33 times, making any comparisons between the various triumphs tricky ... and relatively meaningless anyway.

Everybody knows that the provincial landscape would have been immeasurably different when the competition was first convened in 1889, and WP bagged it seven times in eight opportunities before the 19th century had even run its course (they have been rather less prolific in modern times).

But it is seriously tempting to suggest the latest success – which takes them 10 clear of the Blue Bulls again tally-wise – may well rank as a top-fiver or thereabouts for the manner in which it was achieved, and so against the grain of popular expectation.

Some of the best and most neutral critics, after all, were picking the virtually full-strength Sharks to claim Saturday’s final by 12 points or more, particularly given the benefit of home advantage plus knowledge of the 30-10 score-line in their favour when the same foes clashed in the lopsided Durban showpiece just two years earlier.

It is probably not too inaccurate to say that the Sharks took to the heavy pitch sporting some 40-50 percent more of their full-strength Super Rugby arsenal than the injury-hit WP could assemble.

In that context, and also considering the whip hand the Sharks had held over these rivals in the two major competitions this year, Province’s 25-18 victory goes down as a remarkable one, the cherry on top being that this final was a vibrant, fast-paced and full-blooded one roughly from start to finish.

It was the classic sporting occasion where the spirit and self-belief of the underdog (initially under the cosh and slipping some way behind on the board as well) just ballooned and ballooned.

By the final whistle there could be no doubting the validity of WP’s achievement, even as Capetonian hearts would have been in mouths as a last-ditch Sharks assault -- including another menacing, concerted scrummage – nearly yielded a potentially equalising touchdown.

But there was good body language about this Province side from the very kick-off, and importantly it didn’t seem to change as they slipped behind 12-3 within half an hour and a repeat of 2010 was beginning to beckon fairly loudly.

But sound defensive principles are so entrenched in the Newlands-based team’s collective mindset these days that they soaked up much firm pressure and then healthily sensed that the Sharks’ “kitchen sink” assault was beginning to lose water.

Against all odds, the visitors instead swept increasingly onto the front foot themselves as their hosts’ legs turned unusually leaden, ideas began to dwindle and Sharks coach John Plumtree erred, too, in the timing and choice of a few substitutions.

In a colossal team feat, some individuals did shine brighter than others as Province broke an 11-year drought in this competition and also ended a disconcertingly expanding losing streak of defeats in key, knockout matches in either Currie Cup or Super Rugby.

Nuggety captain and ever-more-impressive, converted No 6 flanker Deon Fourie got the official mantle as player of the match ... and why not?

He is like a Jack Russell terrier outsmarting a venomous snake in the way he beavers, burrows and bangs his way about the park, and his utility value as a hooker must make him a very credible candidate for a place in the Springbok squad for the northern hemisphere tour to be announced on Sunday.

But every bit as dynamic in a never-say-die WP pack (and it is a description he’s warranted just about every Saturday for several weeks and months) was Eben Etzebeth, the smouldering second-rower who simply gets in faces and stays there.

Apart from being stroppy in a mostly admirably controlled sort of way, the No 4, who will no doubt turn 21 especially joyously on Monday, was instrumental in causing havoc off the Sharks’ throw-in at the lineout.

It was a department where Province earned critical “retribution”, if you like, for the butchering they mostly took at the other set-piece.

Having said that, a couple of defiant big heaves of their own in the second half only further demonstrated the unrelenting grit of the youth-punctuated eventual champions.

Speaking of greenhorns, other forwards in that category to give their all and then some included Scarra Ntubeni, who may “pop” a few times from the middle of the front row as he isn’t the bulkiest tractor in the shed, but tackled and scrambled ceaselessly and also had some inspiring ball-carries.

The WP backline wasn’t devoid of its on-day heroes, either: Juan de Jongh’s swerving, bamboozling try only underlined the folly of his curtailed Bok involvement this year, whilst flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis got more and more authoritative as the game wore on – his two dropped goals, one off either foot, in the final quarter really put the last nails in the Sharks’ unexpected coffin.

Although Catrakilis will be a surrendered resource next season, 2013 looks predominantly rosy for rugby at Newlands once more, given the number of established stars who will filter back, fit again, to supplement an expanding cupboard of Young Turks and a volley of headline signings from the Lions into the bargain.

A monkey has been brushed off WP’s backs and the potential to cash in further on that very fact must be regarded as significant.

But the Sharks – who incidentally contributed to a final played in laudable spirit – ought to stay right up among pace-setters across the tournament range next year as well.

That will apply particularly if the 2012 runners-up in both Super Rugby and the Currie Cup can get an overdue grip on an area that has arguably bedevilled them for several seasons ... that messy old lineout of theirs.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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