Western Province were consigned to the 2008 Currie Cup also-rans scrapheap when they failed to reach their play-offs objectives despite beating the Lions 14-6 in their clash at Newlands on Saturday evening.
WP needed to win, score at least four tries and attain a winning margin of at least 19 points to pip the Lions for the fourth and final play-off spot in this year’s competition.
However, they only managed the first target and, although they produced an all-round rousing display in the match, it did not atone for their failure to reach this season’s play-offs.
Slick handling movements by WP made for a rousing start but the Lions’ defence survived the early tests. WP may have taken an early lead but they declined two opportunities (second and 11th minutes) to kick at the posts and opted to kick for touch in pursuit of tries.
However, WP failed to capitalise on this advantage as they failed to win their line-out ball and clearly the 11th hour withdrawal of lock Adrian Fondse was costing WP dearly. AJ Venter replaced Fondse in the WP second row.
The match was played in the best traditions of the good old-fashioned WP – Transvaal with quarter given or asked but tempers became frayed in the 14th minute and play was held up for about three minutes.
Midway through the first half, neither side had managed to open their account but that might have changed two minutes later but WP scrumhalf Ricky Januarie could not hold onto a pass as WP pulled off a line-out trick which caught the Lions’ defence napping.
The high-paced start to the match seemed to have taken the sting out of the attacks and from about the 25th minute both sides started trading heavily on upfield kicks in an effort to win territory. There was also a few up-and-unders from the Lions but WP only just managed to ward off danger.
As the match approached the halftime break, there were several promising movements by WP inside the Lions half but poor option taking saw their efforts come to nought until the 40th minute when WP flanker Luke Watson rounded off a splendid drive from a close-in lineout to score the first try of the match. Flyhalf Peter Grant, who was not having a particularly good game, goaled splendidly from the touchline to give WP a deserved lead (7-0).
Lions’ centre Doppies le Grange was yellow-carded 30 seconds before halftime.
WP restarted where they left off and three early second-half sorties into the Lions 22 metre area may have brought early reward but again poor options robbed them of a possible second try in the first six minutes after the restart.
But WP did not lose heart and they kept plugging away and one telling break by Januarie looked like making the breakthrough but the Lions’ cover defence kicked into gear and the Springbok No 9 was collared near the Lions’ 22m line.
Despite WP’s grip on the game, the Lions drew first blood in the second half when their flyhalf Earl Rose goaled a close-range penalty in the 62nd minute (7-3).
Two minutes later, the Newlands faithful were out of their seats when WP skipper Jean de Villiers pulled off a trademark interception, just at a time when the Lions threatened, and ran the length of the field for his side’s second try. Grant added the conversion (14-3).
In the remaining 18 minutes of play, WP certainly did enough to earn two more tries but they just couldn’t make a further breakthrough in the face of some fierce resistance by the Lions who remained cool under pressure.