Last week DirectAxis False Bay completed their three games in seven days with an impressive unbeaten run, earning a full house of log points en route.
The Bay easily dealt with a competitive NTK last Saturday and then travelled to an icy Stellenbosch on Wednesday night, before taking on St George’s in Strand in storm conditions this past Saturday.
With the top six teams qualifying to contest for league honours in the knockout stage of SLA2018, a top-two finish is much sought after to avoid having to play a quarterfinal. The Constantia outfit moved into second spot behind Maties after this past week. The students have a three-point log lead while the Bay have their noses barely one point ahead of third placed Durbell.
Last Wednesday’s encounter against Victorians was a massive banana peel in waiting. The Stellenbosch second-stringers had prepared well for this match. Coach Louis Blom, the former hardman of Western Province rugby, doing his homework for the contest.
Victorians opened the scoreboard with a penalty by flyhalf Gerco Nortje, a sweet striker of the ball issuing, a strong warning of pending danger from his boot. Vics, up for the game and ready for combat in the trenches, swamped the Bay, pinning them down with rush defence which allowed little room for attack. It was then to be expected that the powerful Danie Roux, playing at centre in the last three matches, would break the shackles of a suffocating defence structure to put the Bay into a 7-3 lead, after wing Karl Martin converted the try.
The young students, showing the maturity of post-grads, were by no means shaken. They took the game to the visitors, at times pinning them in their own half for what seemed like ages. Wing Fredrick van Zyl finished a well-crafted try to give the students a one point lead. Later in the half, Nortje converted a penalty to extend his team’s lead to four points.
All the while False Bay absorbed the pressure exerted by a rampant Victorians who had prepared well and were not standing back for their opponents. At times proceedings became a little combatant, both teams reluctant to flinch in the face of their opponents.
Karl Martin, relishing being on the pitch albeit on the wing, struck back for the Bay as they counter-attacked from barely into their opponent’s half. By time he received the ball, Martin still had twenty metres of treacherous ground to cover, the sideline adding the extra defender. He scored in the corner and dissected the uprights for good measure to give his team a slender three-point lead.
DirectAxis False Bay were exerting their authority, and then extended their lead when lock Jan Ferreira, who had an outstanding game as he ran himself into the turf, stretched for the line and planted the ball against the base of the pole protectors. The referee was comfortable with the score and after a short consultation at the behest of his assistant referee, he ruled that what he saw was legal and allowed the try to stand. Martin gave the visitors a ten-point lead with the conversion.
That lead would have been a handy one for the Bay to take down the tunnel at the half-time whistle, but Vics had different plans. Determined not to capitulate to their opponents up front and with the speedy backs running the ball with speed, confidence and verve, they threatened the Bay try-line as half-time approached. False Bay’s defence stood firm but with barely a minute or two on the first half clock, scrumhalf Jurgens van Schalkwyk crossed the lead to reduce False Bay’s lead to just three points after Nortjie got the conversion.
The False Bay coaching panel would have had some words of wisdom to share at the break but in essence the visitors were being stymied by a determined Victorians who were playing in-your-face rugby, behind the advantage line, enough to curtail the attacking flair of any team. It was a sound tactic which coupled with the ability to launch effective, blitz attacks at the Bay line, made Victorians a very dangerous outfit, a true character test for the Bay.
It is the business end of SLA2018. With four matches remaining after this one, False Bay needed a for-try win to move one point ahead of Dur-Bell, the two teams vying for what is surely second spot with Maties currently unstoppable and registering massive wins recently. With this in mind it was no surprise that captain Graham Knoop passed on the opportunity to convert penalties into three points and opt for lineout restarts in search of a seven-pointer.
As the game wore on and Victorians doggedly stuck to their task, showing no signs of capitulating in the heat of the physical battle, there were some nervous travelling supporters eyeing a scoreboard that was stark reminder of the threat all Stellenbosch teams pose when the score is close and the heat is on.
Admittedly False Bay left a few scoring opportunities on the field, conversion of which would have settled some nerves in the stands, but conversely their superb defence also kept the maroon candy-striped wolves from their door. On one particular occasion, the hosts staged a threatening counter-attack with a scrambling Bay defence somehow managing to retreat, keep their line intact and earn a penalty five metres from their line. Heart-stopping for Bay fans, frustrating for those allied to the hosts.
False Bay’s bonus point try was Roux’s second, a typical effort of pace and power and gave the Constantia team an eight-point lead. Vics were far from beaten and with the clock counting down in slow-motion, they threatened the Bay line with sufficient effect to remind all that only the referee’s final whistle would force these warriors to relent. Flank Juan Venter crashed over for the hosts and the Bay’s lead was stripped down to a paltry three points, by no means enough against a team on fire as were the hosts.
The students continued their salvos at the Bay lines and in return the Bay parried and counter-attacked, one of which saw Roux, by now back on the wing, receive the ball on the halfway line. He launched one of his trademark attacks at the Vics defences, sidestepping one, going around another and then over yet another on his way to scoring a try which relieved all Bay hearts and broke those aligned to Victorians. Adnaan Oesman converted.
Minutes later the referee called an end to proceedings, an enthralling contest, heartbreaking as it was for some.
Barely recovered from this physical contest, False Bay then travelled to Strand to face St Georges for their third match in seven days. The fixture gave Johnno van der Walt the opportunity to rest some of his players and others the chance to prove their worth.
With the major storm expected to reach that area at around kick-off, mastering the elements was as much a challenge as any for all players on the pitch. With a very strong North Westerly wind blowing the length of the pitch and at the backs of the hosts, collecting points in the first half was their primary task. Former Springbok flyhalf Earl Rose, at pivot for St Georges certainly knew how to master the conditions and directed proceedings in the first half.
St Georges lead by a single point at the break and with the wind now at the backs of the visitors and a power-bench waiting to be utilised if necessary, they had their work cut out. False Bay added twenty-one points to their score while the hosts failed to effect any change to theirs.
False Bay now occupy second spot on the SLA table with three matches remaining. None of these can be pencilled in as an easy win, UWC at Bellville are tough opponents; Villagers a derby with the accompanying rivalry; and Brackenfell on their own turf are a major challenge.
Kick off at UWC on Saturday is at 4pm with the first game starting at 1.20pm.