Western Province edged out the Blue Bulls 23-18 at Loftus Versfeld on Friday to secure a fourth consecutive berth in the Currie Cup final. Province head coach John Dobson had recalled his first choice players to his starting line-up for the clash. Fullback Cheslin Kolbe, winger Seabelo Senatla, centre Johnny Kotze, flanker Rynhardt Elstadt, lock Ruan Botha, prop Steven Kitshoff and hooker Bongi Mbonambi all returned to the starting XV.
Bulls boss Nollis Marais had named Jacques Du Plessis at lock for the game. Du Plessis was a late withdrawal to the team that edged out the Pumas, 25-24, in Nelspruit last weekend, but was ready to take his regular number four spot in the team. Home flyhalf Tian Schoeman and his opposite number Robert Du Preez traded penalties in the first half as both teams proved too strong defensively, inevitably reducing the first half into a battle of the kickers.
The first penalty came in the second minute when Nic Groom launched a box kick, but it was charged down and the hosts won the penalty on the deck. Schoeman’s kick was good and the Loftus union took the lead. The Pretoria union doubled its lead in the 13th minute after Elstadt was pinged for not rolling away at the breakdown. Schoeman had another shot at goal and did the business once more.
The visitors came back into contention in the 15th minute when Pierre Schoeman was blown for being offside which allowed Du Preez to pull back three points with a penalty goal. The Capetonians levelled nine minutes later when Pierre Schoeman was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle on Cheslin Kolbe. Du Preez took the equalising kick.
Marais’s men took the lead three minutes later as they won a penalty on the deck inside the opposition 22. It was Schoeman with the vital kick once again but they let the lead slip once more as Travis Ismaiel tackled Sikhumbuzo Notshe without using his arms. Du Preez ensured the sides went in level, nine a piece at half-time.
It was first blood to the men from the capital 10 minutes into the second half as Schoeman put them back in the lead with another accurate kick. The breakthrough finally came the way of Dobson’s troops in the 52nd minute as a stolen ball at a ruck allowed them to spread the ball wide where centre Kotze kicked past the encroaching blue wall. Kolbe chased the ball to score in the corner and Du Preez made easy work of the difficult conversion, putting the visitors in the lead for the first time in the tie.
Kolbe showed his brilliance again in the 70th minute when he took a quick line out deep in the home side’s half. The ball was passed through the hands quickly to allow replacement scrumhalf Jano Vermaak to score. Replacement flyhalf Kurt Coleman added the sundries and it appeared as if the record Currie Cup winners were out of sight.
With the crowd cheering them on the Bulls threw everything they had at Western Province but they defended resolutely to edge out a 23-18 victory, booking their place in the 2015 Currie Cup final against the Free State Cheetahs or the Golden Lions, who face off on Saturday in Johannesburg.