Cape Town - It took 100 minutes of high drama at Newlands, but Western Province ultimately clinched home-ground advantage and will host the Sharks in the Currie Cup final in Cape Town next weekend after the coastal sides beat their Gauteng rivals in two epic semi-finals on Saturday.
The final, which will kick off at 16:00 next Saturday, will be a repeat of last year’s title decider in the Currie Cup Premier Division and WP will have the opportunity to defend their crown in front of their home fans. They won the prestigious gold cup last year by beating the Sharks 33-21.
However, it took a sublime performance by Western Province wing SP Marais, who scored 30 points as he steered the defending champions to a 35-32 victory in a titanic 100-minute thriller against the Blue Bulls in Cape Town.
Marais scored a try, seven penalty goals and two conversions in a gripping encounter in which the sides were level at 32-32 after 80 minutes.
The Blue Bulls scored four tries to two by the home side, but their ill-discipline and struggle to stand their ground in the scrums came at a high price, as Marais made easy work of the penalty goals.
That said, the match could have swayed either way as a successful conversion by Blue Bulls flyhalf Manie Libbok - who was a key figure for his team - after a Dylan Sage try in injury time would have booked the Pretorians a place in the final against the Sharks in Durban.
The wayward attempt, however, pushed the match into extra time, and Marais slotted over his seventh penalty goal of the match to push his side ahead by 35-32, after missing an earlier shot at goal.
The Blue Bulls were also awarded a penalty in extra time, but they opted to kick for touch with five minutes to play, rather than going for the posts. They failed to add to their score before the siren sounded.
Earlier on Saturday, the Sharks remained composed under immense pressure against the Golden Lions in an exciting match in Durban for a 33-24 victory.
The clash in Durban was gripping as the Golden Lions fought their way back from 18-3 down at half-time to work their way within two points of the hosts on the scoreboard with 11 minutes to play, before Dan du Preez barged over for his second try, which dashed the Gautengers’ hopes of a victory.
Three braces were scored in the match, and all by Springboks, with Du Preez and Sbu Nkosi accounting for the Sharks’ four tries, while Courtnall Skosan scored two of the Golden Lions’ three tries.
The Sharks took a cautious approach in the first half by taking the points on offer at crucial times, which saw Robert du Preez kick two penalty goals, to add to tries by his younger brother and Nkosi, while they starved the visitors of possession, which limited them to a penalty goal for their efforts.
Nkosi crashed over for the second time from the restart, but a three back-to-back tries by the Golden Lions skipper, Nic Groom, and two by Skosan forced them back into the match. The hosts, however, remained calm and touched down for the fourth time with five minutes left on the clock to book their place in the final.