DHL Western Province recorded a deserved 28-15 Vodacom Cup, Round Six win over a battle-hardened Free State XV at City Park on Saturday afternoon.
The hosts, back at City Park after playing at DHL Newlands last weekend, scored three tries to two in a physical clash played in sweltering conditions.
The win, WP’s fifth of the season – to go with just one defeat, means the 2012 champions have all but secured a home quarterfinal place, despite still having to play one more league game in 2014.
With Gary van Aswegen, Kyle Lombard and Johnny Kotze all lost to injury there was a brand-new look to the DHL Western Province midfield today.
Kurt Coleman, who had impressed the previous week with his second-half cameo, started at flyhalf, with new signing Robert du Preez and partnering Huw Jones in the midfield.
Both debutants Du Preez and Jones were fresh from the Varsity Cup and were looking to make the step up to senior provincial rugby.
For the visitors the big change was the one which saw Heinrich Brüssow play at eighthman in his first game back from his stint in Japan with the Docomo Red Hurricanes. The big question was always going to be how his fitness would hold up after being side-lined for three months with a toe injury picked up in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Jones, meanwhile, made a dream start on debut and scored the opening try of the match in the 14th minute with Coleman unable to add the conversion.
Flyhalf Riaan Smit got the Free State XV on the board with a penalty thereafter before his halfback partner Renier Botha grabbed the lead.
The try and a successful conversion by Smit gave the Free State XV the lead at 10-5 going into the last period of the half.
Two penalties by Coleman saw the hosts go into the break leading narrowly at 11-10.
The more experienced Free Staters scored early in the second half, through prop Kevin Stevens, but back-to-back tries by Du Preez and Williams, shortly before the start of the final quarter, gave Province a handy lead at 25-15.
Willilams’s try, his ninth of 2014, was a typically brilliant individual effort as he stood up the Free State fullback en route to the tryline – prompting the lively City Park fans to jump out of their seats.
A late Coleman penalty goal made it 28-15, but the visitors did not stop pushing – only to be met by some resilient WP defence.
The win sees DHL Western Province guarantee themselves a place in the 2014 quarterfinals and the chance to finish second if they beat the SWD Eagles at Outeniqua Park in George next week.
The Free State XV, also guaranteed of a place in the business end of the competition, return home to Bloemfontein and will look for a maximum haul against the Tusker Simba XV as they have an outside chance of finishing in the top two of the South Section.
For DHL Western Province:
Tries: Jones, Du Preez, Williams
Cons: Coleman 3
Pens: Coleman 2
For the Free State XV
Tries: Botha, Stevens
DHL Western Province: 15 Tiger Bax, 14 JP Lewis, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Robert du Preez, 11 Devon Williams, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Jean Nel, 8 Carel du Preez, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Rohan Kitshoff (captain), 5 Jan de Klerk, 4 Tazz Fuzani, 3 Entienne Swanepoel, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Deacon Chowles, 18 Jan Uys, 19 Eital Bredenkamp, 20 Freddie Muller, 21 Janco Gunter, 22 Chevandre van Schoor.
The Free State XV: 15 Luke Cyster, 14 Alvin Brandt, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Niel Marais (captain), 11 Sinovuyo Ganto, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Renier Botha, 8 Heinrich Brüssow, 7 Wayven Smith, 6 Zingisa April, 5 Walti Vermeulen, 4 Neil Claassen, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Kevin Stevens.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Nicholas Schonert, 18 Philip du Preez, 19 Peet Coetzee, 20 Kay Kay Hlongwane, 21 Joubert Engelbrecht, 22 Don Mlondobozi.
Referee: Ben Crouse