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23 July 2016

Photos: Gavin Withers Photography

DirectAxis False Bay RFC staged a phenomenal comeback in the last quarter hour of their SLA match to run out 32-17 victors over Stellenbosch University at Constantia on Saturday. The Bay held a slender 3-0 half time lead.


The contest was always going to be the Bay’s litmus test, especially as the season progressed and they had maintained an unbeaten record in their previous ten outings. And what a test of character, commitment and ability it proved to be.


The Maties, coming off an extended mid-season break are also unbeaten but in a scheduling mystery have only played five matches hitherto. They were the next challenge the Constantia outfit had to overcome in their 2016 campaign, which includes participation in the national club rugby championships, the Gold Cup.


With the hosts Second XV showing the way in their victory over the Maties, the scene was set for a piping hot contest on a bitterly cold day. As with any contest between two top teams play in the opening period was pretty much a sparring contest, each team measuring the opponent. The Maties pack in this period did surprise their vaunted opponents with impressive contesting of the first three scrums, but the Bay settled down and gained ascendancy as the half progressed. Their lineout proved to be effective with eighthman Janco Venter being their primary target as he roamed between four and the back of the line. By contrast the Bay’s line was at times erratic.


Indeed this seemed to be the pattern of play for the hosts for the better part of the first half as DirectAxis contrived to make things difficult for themselves. During the opening stanza they dominated possession and their forwards gained ascendancy but they lacked finishing and scoring opportunities went abegging. Their slender lead at the break could so easily have been a double-figure advantage had they executed better. Determined defence by the Maties further thwarted the Bay’s attempts. One breathtaking move saw eighthman Ryan Olivier break off a lineout on the halfway, offloaded to centre Jason Pretorius who sliced the defence and popped a pass to bullocking wing Danie Roux who ran hard but was tackled into touch a few metres from the line. These three were outstanding on the day and featured throughout the contest.


The second half started with an intensity greater than the first, this time with both teams willing to throw the kitchen sink at it. The Bay were immediately on attack, driving the ball up through their forwards, moving it wide and back again. Five metres from the maroon-clad outfit’s line and seemingly about to score, the Maties robbed the Bay of possession and wing Duncan Saal ran in for a 95 metre score. Flyhalf Chris Smith made it seven with the conversion.


Stellenbosch University, by virtue of location normally have a small travelling support and the large, predominantly False Bay crowd was silenced. Moments later they were in raptures as Olivier started a counter attack from his own half, the ball seeing the deft hands of fullback Adnaan Osman and wing Mustaqueem Jappie who each weaved some magic before prop Wesley Chetty crashed over in the corner. The Bay had wrested the lead again but relinquished it moments later through a Smith penalty.


Maties were a far more organised team in the second half. Having lost Venter, who was their standout player till then, they seemed to muster together and got down to playing their trademark fast-paced rugby. They became their usual, ominous force, one which could rip any team to shreds at the drop of a ball. Indeed this appeared to be the case when Bay flyhalf Andri Claasen had a clearance kick charged down and Maties centre Kyle Steyn scored. Smith converted.


Claasen throughout the contest hardly put a foot wrong on the day, and would write that one off to experience. It was the end of the first hour of play and the home support were chewing nails again. Their team was 8-17 behind and the Mighty Maties were rising.


What was to ensue was fifteen minutes of passion, power play and sheer determination as the Bay blew their opponents away, scoring four unanswered tries to convert the eight-point deficit into a fifteen point victory. That against the very team renowned throughout the decades for doing the very same to their opponents time after time through their trademark style of playing until the final whistle.


First up was Captain Courageous, Graham Knoop who stretched over the line at the end of a multi-phase move. Claasen converted and the deficit was only two points. Olivier, an immense presence throughout crashed over moments later to give his team the lead and a hope of the fourth try for a bonus point. The elusive Jappie flatfooted defence and banked that point with his try, and then for good measure Olivier completed a brace and the Bay completed an historic victory over their revered opponents.


This was truly a squad effort. Identifying individuals would be churlish. Indeed the bench players were given a massive vote of confidence by coach Johnno van der Walt who showed faith in their ability by introducing them into the contest when most would have held on in hope.


Outstanding on the day for Maties were those already mentioned as well as scrumhalf Paul de Wet, who was sharp behind his pack and lock Ian Groenewald who was a physical presence in the loose, thriving on his duel with Knoop.


DirectAxis False Bay host Brackenfell on Saturday. The visitors, who returned to the SLA this season are deservedly in the top five of the competition and will be another tough challenge for the Bay.


Kick off at Constantia is at 4pm with first matches starting at 1.30pm.


- Jon Harris


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