There was no denying the element of their game that DHL Western Province had the most to thank was their defence as they scored a hard worked 27-14 win over the Xerox Golden Lions in a top of the log Absa Currie Cup match at Newlands on Saturday.
Seldom has a team dominated possession so much and yet lost as comprehensively on the end scoreboard as the Lions did in this match, with WP making the most of their try scoring opportunities while keeping the visitors at bay with an outstanding committed, aggressive and disciplined defensive display.
The final scoreline might give the wrong impression, as the match was much closer than a 13 point margin would suggest.
With 10 minutes to go the Lions might well have taken the lead as they pressed for a try after setting up an attacking lineout with a penalty, and should have kicked themselves for failing to take full advantage of a clear overlap opportunity as they moved the ball to the right.
WP, as they had been the whole match and indeed last week against the Blue Bulls, were heroic in defending in the left corner, they won a penalty, and from the resultant lineout the forwards first drove before the box kick was put in by the scrumhalf.
Up to harry the Lions on the chase was the speedy Seabelo Senatla, WP won the ball back and Kurt Coleman, on as a replacement, burst clear to set up the try that was finished off by replacement centre Jaco Taute.
That was the killer blow, but what provided it summed up the game – the Lions made poor decisions with ball in hand, WP defended well and then made the most of the half opportunity that came their way.
In the first quarter of the game it never looked like being a close contest, as the hosts raced into a 14-0 lead with two tries that summed up what has really changed in the last while with WP rugby.
To put it simply, they have improved their attacking game and they’ve unleashed their counter-attack, with the rest of their game, including the amount of times they kick the ball, pretty much staying the same.
An example of the improved attack came with the first try, with a WP driving maul being held up just short of the line and then the ball being spun wide across the face of a bunched Lions defence and the score, which was completed by Kobus van Wyk running inside off a switch from Cheslin Kolbe, was always on.
The conversion made it 7-0 after 12 minutes and then five minutes later came the example of potent counter-attack doing the work, with desperate WP defence deep inside their own 22 leading to what looked initially to be a poor and misdirected clearance kick from flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis.
Only this was an occasion where the benefit of having size on the wings was demonstrated, with Van Wyk winning the ball in the air and then running more than 60 metres to score.
With WP leading 14-0 and having already banked two tries it looked like a bonus point win was in their sight, but for the next hour WP hardly saw the ball and had to spend most of that time defending.
Fortunately for them, unlike in their previous two games, their discipline was good – the first penalty of the game was only awarded after 20 minutes – and that helped them hold firm against a Lions side that clearly missed having a specialist at flyhalf.
Stokkies Hanekom, usually a centre, was pressed into the role thanks to the injuries to Marnitz Boshoff and Jaco van der Walt, and he is just too predictable and lacks the finesse of a pivot.
With the Lions' attacking moves being so basic and predictable, it made the WP task of defending easier, and might explain why they went to the break 14-8 up even though they only enjoyed little more than 20% possession in the first half.
The Lions’ first-half try, their only one of the match, came three minutes before the halftime hooter, with a long build-up eventually just leading to WP running out of defenders and fullback Andries Coetzee was able to run in at the corner after good hand skills were displayed by the players on his inside.
That made it a close game, and for much of the second half the WP supporters in the 14 000 crowd would have been on the edge of their seats as Province repelled the Lions' attacks.
A Ruan Combrink penalty made it a three point game not long into the half, and he and Catrakilis traded penalties to see WP go into the last quarter 20-14 up.
For all the huff and puff of the Lions, however, they never really looked like scoring a try, while when WP did visit the Lions 22 metre area they looked far more dangerous.
The Lions forwards were impressive and powerful with their ball carrying, but in the end it didn’t net them reward, and as their skipper Derick Minnie admitted afterwards, it was what you expected from WP – their defensive game remains almost impregnable.
Only these days they are also far more adept at turning defence into attack than they were previously, and that is what makes them one of the favoured teams to win the 2014 edition of the Currie Cup.
DHL Western Province 27 – Tries: Kobus van Wyk 2 and Jaco Taute; Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis 2 and Kurt Coleman; Penalties: Demetri Catrakilis 2.
Xerox Golden Lions 14 – Try: Andries Coetzee; Penalties: Ruan Combrink 3.