Teenage Willemse pulls the strings as WP cruise past Bulls
If new Blue Bulls rugby director John Mitchell had any doubts about the size of the challenge that awaits him, they were dispelled by a tepid first half display that sealed a 45-34 victory for Western Province at Newlands.
Despite a spirited fightback after halftime, which saw the Bulls ‘win’ the second half 21-3, the damage was done early on as the Bulls suffered their second defeat of the campaign.
Teenage flyhalf Damian Willemse pulled the strings for WP behind a pack that manhandled the Bulls for large portions of the game.
With such a solid platform Willemse was able to display his wide range of skills to embarrass the Bulls as they battled to cope with the pace and accuracy of the home team in the first half.
No 8 Nizaam Carr, Willemse, fullback SP Marais, wing Seabelo Senatla (2) and hooker Scarra Ntubeni scored first half tries to kill off the match before the second half.
Willemse was at the heart of most of what WP did well. He scored a wonderful solo try, jinking his way through six tackles to score WP’s second try of their most impressive performance of the Currie Cup campaign.
Much has been made of Willemse’s talent and potential and he hasn’t disappointed by taking the step up to senior rugby with the kind of ease that is the preserve of the gifted few.
His combination with Scotland international centre Huw Jones was promising as the two showed impressive understanding of each other’s game to keep the Bulls defence guessing.
More often than not they guessed incorrectly as the WP pair carved openings that led to six first half tries.
There was a 15-minute period that straddled halftime when the Bulls held the upper hand with WP centre EW Viljoen in the sin bin after an illegal tackle.
While he was considering his tackle technique on one of those comically flimsy plastic chairs that strain under the weight of professional rugby players, the Bulls scored twice.
Scrumhalf Piet van Zyl and wing Kefentse Mahlo scored to give the Bulls faint hope after trailing 35-6 at one stage, but it wasn’t enough to undo what had gone before.
But those tries shifted the momentum in a match that had been completely one-sided with WP scoring five tries before the Bulls had scored one.
Mahlo scored a second and replacement hooker Johan Grobbelaar barged over for his team’s bonus point try to keep the Bulls’ faint hopes flickering.
WP’s scrum dominated the Bulls and their lineout edged that facet as well. At one stage late in the first half the Bulls lost three balls on their own throw in the space of two minutes.
Hooker Jan-Henning Campher battled to find his jumpers, who were always under pressure from the likes of Chris van Zyl and JD Schickerling.
Tries: Nizaam Carr, Damian Willemse, SP Marais, Seabelo Senatla (2), Scarra Ntubeni. Conversions: SP Marais (6).
Tries: Piet van Zyl, Kefentse Mahlo (2), Johan Grobbelaar. Conversions: Tony Jantjies (3), JT Jackson. Penalties: Tony Jantjies (2).