Western Province bided their time, defending superbly as the Bulls dominated territory for long periods, and when they struck it was potent and clinical.
While the Bulls’ attack was mostly narrow, their forwards driving and mauling the ball up ad infinitum, Western Province kept their width and weren’t afraid to use it.
And the Bulls erred enough times while on attack to provide the visitors with counter-attacking opportunities. One of those was on the hour mark when wing Sampie Mastriet coughed up possession and Western Province fullback Cheslin Kolbe ran the turnover ball across the field and linked up with Senatla, who was holding position out wide on the 22m line.
Senatla had space, which is a recipe for disaster when defending against the Sevens star, and he embarked on a dazzling 80m run that saw him ignominiously burn William Small-Smith on the outside, before dancing infield and then bursting through Jesse Kriel’s tackle to score a try that will be remembered for many a day.
That brilliant try came just three minutes after Western Province had scored their first try, which was also a superb effort and possibly even more thrilling for the coaching staff because it came off a set-piece move.
From a lineout, flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis looped with eighthman Nizaam Carr and inside centre Jaco Taute then gave a super inside ball to Senatla, who came flying up from the left wing. The 21-year-old showed his wonderful feet as he danced through the gap and then fed the ball out wide to Kobus van Wyk, who had done well to keep his width, and finished with great pace himself.
Although Senatla was helped off the field soon afterwards after twisting his ankle, the injury is apparently not a major one and certainly not season-ending.
Catrakilis converted both tries and suddenly Western Province were 20-10 up when just five minutes earlier it had looked to be the Bulls’ day as they led 10-6 after a penalty by replacement flyhalf Tian Schoeman rewarded an excellent scrum by the home side.
“To play like that and to lose can make your mind go,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke lamented after the match. “Credit to the players for a huge improvement and there were a lot of positives from that game. But we just lost momentum in the second half at crucial times, we didn’t exit well enough and there were soft moments.”
“I’m really very happy to beat a desperate Bulls side which showed a big improvement tonight, at altitude. It’s their first loss at Loftus Versfeld this year and if they’d played like that before they would have had many more points on the log. We made mistakes but it takes a tight team to pull through here,” Western Province coach Allister Coetzee said.
“Our defence is a non-negotiable, but we’ve also got the players to turn defence into attack. The outside backs were really switched on to that tonight and the half-backs also play a big role in that. We have strength, speed, guile and power in our backline and it’s a good combination.
“There’s a good balance to our play, it doesn’t depend on where we are on the field of play either, and we’re devastating at the moment from broken play,” the former Springbok assistant coach said.
The opening points of the match only came after 34 minutes of intriguing ball-in-hand action and massive defence by both sides.
A good kick by Kurt Coleman, on while Catrakilis was in the blood bin, forced the Bulls to concede a lineout just outside their 22 and the Western Province rolling maul earned the substitute flyhalf a penalty shot at goal.
Bulls flyhalf Joshua Stander missed an easy penalty just a minute later and, after playing their best rugby of the campaign in the first half, dominating territory but hardly kicking, and pounding the advantage line, the home side would have been disappointed to have gone into the break scoreless.
Catrakilis landed a second penalty for Western Province five minutes into the second half – it came after a period of Bulls-like driving and mauling by the visitors – but it took just three more minutes for the hosts to score their first points, through a great try by storming flank Jacques du Plessis.
The Bulls were defending a lineout 30 metres from their line after a poor clearance by Kriel, but when Western Province threw over the top and eighthman Jono Ross won the ball, they again refused to just kick possession away. Instead Ross ran and found mobile lock Grant Hattingh, who burst clear into space. Mastriet then dashed down the right wing before the ball went back inside and Du Plessis charged over for an impressive try.
Stander converted and then his replacement Schoeman kicked a penalty to put the Bulls 10-6 up.
“We wanted to keep the pace and tempo of the game up, get numbers to the ball, and it was just our final passes that let us down,” Ludeke said. “We were really attacking the gainline and slowly but surely getting somewhere, but then we would give them broken field play and that’s where their tries came from. We need to look after the ball better, but I thought we had the better of them in the scrums and our lineouts were good.”
But then Senatla showed his extraordinary finishing talents to put Western Province firmly in control.
The Bulls held on to the ball well for the next 10 minutes to earn another penalty for Schoeman, but Dean Greyling’s high tackle on Kolbe gave Coleman the opportunity to restore a 10-point lead (23-13) just four minutes later.
The Bulls hammered away at close quarters in the final minutes and belatedly got quick ball out wide to Mastriet, who powered through two tackles from 20 metres out to score.
Schoeman missed the touchline conversion and the Bulls were unable to breach the phenomenal Western Province defence again before the final hooter sounded.
“We need the same effort but with more accuracy,” Ludeke concluded.
For Coetzee, Western Province’s fourth successive win not only stretches their lead at the top of the log to three points but could also be a watershed moment in their Currie Cup campaign.
“There’s a complete integration in our play and we need to keep going, be driven by our own standards and run our own race. Winning makes that easier and I must compliment the leadership for getting four points under these conditions: against a very desperate Bulls side at altitude,” Coetzee said.