Two tries to one
Western Province retained their unbeaten run with a 20-19 win over Griquas in a thrilling match in Kimberley on Saturday.
Province, scoring two sublime tries from turnovers, were forced to hold on in the face of a powerful late rally by the home team.
And it was their famed defence that saw WP get four valuable points and claim first place on the standings.
Both teams were guilty of sloppy handling, but Griquas used their superior scrum as a valuable exit strategy whenever they were under pressure inside their half.
Province, in contrast, relied on turnovers, as well as the boots of Kurt Coleman and Louis Schreuder to get them out of trouble.
Griquas, who dominated possession for last parts of the match, also struggled to break down the WP defensive wall, often taking the ball through multiple phases without making too much ground. However, when on occasion they did make progress, it was handling errors that cost them.
In the second half Griquas opted for a far more expansive approach - often attacked from inside their 22 - with their ball-in-hand approach keeping the Province tacklers honest.
However, handling errors continued to cause problems and Province benefitted from those turnover - getting their tries by capitalising on the errors.
Griquas was rewarded with a penalty for their early endeavour, after Kurt Coleman's kick-off went directly into touch. However, Nico Scheepers pushed his shot at goal wide.
It was Deon Fourie who opened the scoring, when he picked up a stray ball at a ruck and sprinted 60 metres for the opening try. Although replays suggested Fourie had lost the ball before the line, the five-pointer stood. Coleman added the extras - 7-0 after six minutes.
Fifteen minutes into the game Griquas got another penalty, after a messy scrum became a ruck and this time Scheepers slotted it - 3-7.
Minutes later Griquas were penalised at a ruck and WP set up a maul deep inside the home team's 22. The maul was sacked, but a few phases later the visitors won another penalty. That also became a line-out and this time Griquas held it up to win a turnover.
And that scrum became a penalty to Griquas, who had been dominating the set pieces. And another penalty soon afterwards, for a high tackle, saw Griquas work their way into the Province half. However, it was again sloppy handling that cost them a chance to turn their territorial advantage into points.
Four minutes from the break Griquas were penalised at the tackle and Coleman stepped up to make it 10-3 - that is how it stayed to half-time.
Early in the second half Griquas earned a penalty right in front of the posts, as their pick-'n-drive game exposed the P defence. Scheepers made no mistake - 6-10.
A scrum penalty in the 53 minute allowed Coleman to take aim at the posts and added three more points - 13-6.
From the restart a WP handling error and subsequent scrum became a penalty to Griquas and Scheepers narrow the gap to 9-13.
Minutes later Province had a try disallowed after foul play from Juan de Jongh was spotted by the assistant and confirmed by the TMO. However, Scheepers' shot at goal was wide of the mark.
Turnovers continued to haunt Griquas, with Province's second try coming after Tiaan Liebenberg stole a ball at a ruck, Rynhardt Elstadt kicked ahead and Juan de Jongh followed up to grubber ahead, collect and score his team's second try. Coleman's conversion made it 20-9, with 15 minutes left on the clock.
A scrum penalty 12 minutes from time allowed Scheepers to narrow the gap to eight points - 12-20.
Griqua continued to hammer away at the Province defensive wall, looking for the try that would put them within striking distance, winning a couple of penalties in the process.
They tapped every time, till PJ Vermeulen went over in the right corner in the 80th minute. Du Randt Gerber added the extras to narrow the gap to one point (19-20), but it was too little too late, as the hooter for full-time had sounded.
Man of the match: Hilton Lobberts was a monster on defence and also a strong carrier, while Howard Mnisi was Griquas' most potent weapon on attack. De Kock Steenkamp and Michael Rhodes did an enormous amount of work for Western Province in the tight exchanges. Deon Fourie and Siyabonga Ntubeni were again the Western Province team's energiser bunnies - they got to be the two players with the highest workrate in the competition. Our award goes to the WP captain and flank Deon Fourie.
Pens: Scheepers 4
For Western Province:
Tries: Fourie, De Jongh
Cons: Coleman 2
Pens: Coleman 2
Griquas: 15 PJ Vermeulen, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 JP Nel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Hilton Lobberts, 6 Carel Greeff, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Jonathan Adendorf, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 RJ Liebenberg, 19 Burger Schoeman, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Du Randt Gerber, 22 Richard Lawson.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Rohan Kitshoff, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Tim Swiel, 22 Ryan Nell.
Referee: Sindile Mayende
Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse, Francois de Bruin
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee