The Blue Bulls played like an old man stumbling around without his glasses in the dark as they succumbed to a 23-18 defeat at the hands of Western Province in their Currie Cup semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
Western Province scored the only two tries of the game and were much more clinical than a Bulls team that piled error upon error and lacked the usual spark and tempo to their game.
The most inexplicable of these errors were the two times right wing Travis Ismaiel gifted the ball to predatory Western Province fullback Cheslin Kolbe, leading to the two tries which gave the visitors the breathing space they needed after the Bulls dominated possession in the opening stages of the second half.
The Bulls were leading 12-9, flyhalf Tian Schoeman having broken the 9-9 halftime deadlock with his fourth penalty, when loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff, who had a big impact on the game, won a turnover deep inside Western Province territory. The visitors predictably counter-attacked and outside centre Johnny Kotze put the grubber through for Kolbe. Ismaiel was chasing back but, seeing fullback Warrick Gelant coming across, he held back, allowing Kolbe to steal the ball with the sublime hands of a pickpocket and race over for the try.
While that may just have been a misunderstanding, the mistake Ismaiel made in the 71st minute was unforgivable, as was the fact that the Bulls had just lost an attacking lineout five metres from the Western Province line.
Kolbe kicked ahead and caught the sluggish Ismaiel, who was forced to run into touch. But instead of getting rid of the ball, he allowed Kolbe to grab it and throw a quick lineout to flank Sikhumbuzo Notshe, with replacement flyhalf Kurt Coleman then flinging a pass out wide for substitute scrumhalf Jano Vermaak to finish in lots of space.
Ismaiel’s bloopers may have been the most obvious, but there were plenty of villains on the night for the Bulls. Francois Hougaard was hesitant with his service at scrumhalf and often kicked when he shouldn’t have, as well as kicking three balls directly out that cost the home side valuable territory.
Territory was a problem for the Bulls for almost the whole game and their scrums were also wobbly, giving away penalties, but improved when Werner Kruger came on off the bench.
Western Province dominated possession but also made plenty of mistakes in a nervy semi-final. But their greater experience was perhaps the telling factor as they made the hard work of their pack count enough times to win the game.
Flyhalf Robert du Preez added three penalties and a conversion to the tries and Coleman’s solitary conversion.
Blue Bulls – Penalties: Tian Schoeman (6).
Western Province – Tries: Cheslin Kolbe, Jano Vermaak. Conversions: Robert du Preez, Kurt Coleman. Penalties: Du Preez (3).