Western Province beat the Golden Lions 33-16 in their semi-final at Newlands, while the Sharks saw off the Free State Cheetahs 33-22 at King’s Park in Durban.
Barring the first 15 minutes when the Lions made their presence felt in the set-pieces, Western Province always looked in control of their match. Between Demetri Catrakilis, Gio Aplon and Louis Schreuder, they convincingly won the kicking battle and dominated territory as a result. With their impressive pack also having an edge, the home side enjoyed a surfeit of possession and most of it was front-foot ball as well.
The Lions were brave, committed in defence and weren’t helped by veteran prop CJ van der Linde leaving the field with a shoulder injury shortly before the half-time break, but the gap in class between them and Western Province was too much for them to bridge.
And the Lions’ kicking game was poor, allowing the brilliant counter-attacking talents of Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe to shine. The fullback position in the Springbok team is one that the jury is still out on, and Aplon offers so much on attack that the slight weaknesses his size causes when it comes to the aerial game and defence should perhaps be tolerated.
The Lions also tried to run the ball out of their own half way too often and it cost them points.
In the 17th minute, the failure of Elton Jantjies to kick from his own 22, after Schreuder’s pinpoint up-and-under was chased brilliantly by Eben Etzebeth, forced lock Franco van der Merwe to eventually clear straight down the field. The dazzling counter-attack that followed between Kolbe and Aplon led to the fullback crossing the line, but the TMO, eventually given the right angle of replay, ruled that the final pass from Schreuder to Aplon was forward. The Lions were still punished, however, by a Catrakilis penalty.
Six minutes later, the ball was knocked-on by the Lions as they once again tried to run out of their own territory. The Western Province scrum may have been under pressure, but loose forwards Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen ensured front-foot ball, which Jean de Villiers used to burst through the defence and make it to just outside the Lions’ 22. From there, Vermeulen went on the charge and Catrakilis was through the hole in the defence to score and give the home side the lead for the first time.
In the 49th minute, Jantjies again failed to find touch and a strong run by wing Gerhard van den Heever led to a 20-phase attack that trapped the Lions offsides and allowed Catrakilis to kick another penalty.
The Lions should have been much more restrained tactically and the loose, open game they employed played right into Western Province’s hands. The 37th-minute try by Aplon that so thrilled the Newlands faithful, the pocket dynamo scoring from 45 metres out on an angled run to the corner, was a case in point.
Apart from an ever-improving tight five, solid halfbacks and a lethal back three, Western Province are also blessed with a tremendous loose trio. Vermeulen was outstanding at the breakdowns and a powerful ball-carrier, while Kolisi had an all-action game, carrying well and tackling superbly.
While Newlands was packed to the rafters, the Sharks faithful largely bunked their team’s semi-final at King’s Park, like the naughty skipping church on Sunday morning. They will no doubt blame the weather, but the rain actually stayed away on Saturday evening.
And it may have contributed to the sluggish start by the Dolphins, who seemed to struggle to overcome the absence of Jannie du Plessis and the late withdrawal of Tendai Mtawarira, the gloomy weather and the slippery field, the lack of home crowd support and a Free State side that were combative at the breakdown and steely in defence.
Replacement props Dale Chadwick and Wiehahn Herbst deserve immense credit, though, for the way they stepped into the breech and grew in confidence against the all-Springbok Free State front row of Nyakane, Strauss and Oosthuizen, and the scrums, although fiercely contested, never gave the visitors a clear edge.
The Cheetahs made the early running after a Lappies Labuschagne try that came from Sharks fullback SP Marais grubbering into the defensive line front of him, Riaan Smit got a crucial boot on to the bobbling ball and eighthman Philip van der Walt gathered and passed to the flank to storm over.
The Sharks were behind 7-3 after half-an-hour, but a late burst ensured they went into half-time 16-7 ahead, with flyhalf Pat Lambie scoring all those points.
Lambie enjoyed a top-class game, succeeding with seven of his eight kicks at goal and ending the first half with a brilliant individual try. Chadwick had won a scrum penalty against Nyakane, allowing the Sharks to set the line-out. A strong run by Marcell Coetzee provided front-foot ball and Lambie then threw a dummy and exploded through the defence to score a marvellous try.
In the second half, Lambie then gave a masterful display of tactical kicking and controlling a game as the Sharks squeezed the Cheetahs with more than 60% territory and possession.
Apart from an early penalty by replacement flyhalf Johan Goosen, after the Cheetahs had taken the ball through 17 phases without making much impact on the Sharks defence, the KwaZulu-Natalians weren’t threatened by the visitors in the third quarter, stretching their lead to 26-10.
But Free State were given a glimmer of hope in the 65th minute when Bismarck du Plessis, like some rebel without a cause, petulantly stamped on a player and was yellow-carded. The Cheetahs scored from the penalty as a slick backline move, with Robert Ebersohn prominent, saw midfield partner Johann Sadie step inside and go over the line.
But Free Staters’ prayers for a dramatic late comeback were dashed just two minutes later as the Sharks made the game safe with a wonderful team try.
Wing Lwazi Mvovo wriggled free down the left and Jacques Botes, now the leading player in terms of appearances in Currie Cup history, charged up in support. The ball was then spread right, with Lambie freeing Odwa Ndungane for a dash down the other wing. Replacement prop Danie Mienie and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit then carried strongly to narrow the Cheetahs’ defence again, before Heimar Williams went over in a big hole out wide.
Williams had replaced Francois Steyn at centre, the returning Springbok having done little on attack, but he did have quite an impact on defence.
Replacement prop Schalk van der Merwe’s late try was merely a dent in the Sharks’ winning margin.
If Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer wants to further grow his team – and close the gap with the All Blacks – he needs more players who can change games with moments of brilliance; players who would contend for a World XV. This could open the door for the likes of Lambie and Aplon to earn starting places and, based on their performances this weekend, they certainly have the talent to shine on the international stage.
In both their cases, the man in possession of “their” Springbok jersey is also based overseas, while the presence of other contenders like Goosen and Willie le Roux also complicates matters.
Speaking of Le Roux, it was the presence of the visionary outside back that made all the difference for Griquas in their promotion/relegation first leg against the Pumas in Kimberley.
Trailing 0-13 at half-time, Griquas were obviously in trouble, but Le Roux set up two second-half tries and eventually the home side scraped through 21-19 after flank Marnus Schoeman scored from a lineout drive in the closing minutes.
But the Premier Division status of the Peacock Blues is still under serious threat as they travel to Nelspruit this weekend for the second and decisive playoff with just a two-point advantage. DM
Support DAILY MAVERICK & get FREE UBER vouchers every month
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money, though not nearly as much as its absence can cost global community. No country can live and prosper without truth - that's why it matters.
Every Daily Maverick article and every Scorpio exposé is proof of our dedication to this unshakeable mission. Investing in our news media is by far the most effective investment into South Africa's future.
You can support Independent and Investigative journalism by joining Maverick Insider. If you contribute R150 or more per month you will receive R100 back in UBER vouchers. EVERY MONTH until October 2019.
So, if you'd like to help and do something meaningful for yourself and your country, then sign up to become a Maverick Insider. Together we can Defend Truth.
The Bluetooth symbol is actually an old Viking-era bind-rune. It represented the initials of a Viking King.