In a tough encounter played in driving rain at Constantia, Stellenbosch University triumphed over False Bay RFC. The final score was 19-9 after the students lead 11-9 at the break.
It was expected to be a titanic clash between two of the top teams in the league, and although it did not disappoint in terms of tension, the conditions did compromise the spectacle it promised to be. While no Capetonian bemoans the rain, the irony is that a drought-delayed season has been a wet one so far as torrential rain tests the skills of the players on gameday Saturdays. A bittersweet setting indeed.
The narrow scoreline was not only indicative of the conditions. Last season the teams were separated by a single point in an 83-point match which delivered some of the most exciting rugby seen in that league for a while yet. This contest was expected to deliver the same, but was not allowed to get its soaked feet off the ground, the ambient conditions bogging proceedings down somewhat.
The skills levels were always going to be tested on the day, but with two of the more exciting teams in the SLA squaring up, both with a penchant for running rugby, the spectacle was somewhat inhibited.
The visitors opened the scoring with a try in the corner by hooker HJ Luus, off the back of a rolling maul. Fullback Tiaan Swanepoel, a high-quality kicker, was unable to convert in the conditions, which left the lead a vulnerable one, especially when the Bay clawed three points back a few minutes later a few minutes later a few minutes later with a penalty by Siya Alem.
The Maties forwards were up to the challenge. While the scrums were even for the better part, the visitors got quality possession from their lineouts through their locks Bernard Jansen and Johan Momsen. Behind the scrum the two backlines gave each other no leeway, tight defence and close rivalry evident throughout. Indeed, the students enjoyed some advantage from an offside line lost in the muddy turf which was not properly policed by the refereeing panel.
On the half hour mark, Maties centre Chris Smith succumbed to a rush of blood and reacted with a headbutt to the face of his opponent, Riaan O’Neil. The action was witnessed by the assistant referee who had no option but to recommend a red card for this uncharacteristic act. The visitors appeared inspired by the challenge of matching a fifteen-man attack and defended their fortress gallantly.
The half ended with a two-point lead to the visitors courtesy of two penalty kicks added by Swanepoel to the two of Bay pivot Alem.
With a strong wind at their backs, Maties nevertheless had their work cut out in the second half, the Bay’s fitness and bench expected to exert pressure on the students in their first match back from a three-week midseason (sic) break.
Five minutes into the second half, False Bay’s eighthman Ryan Olivier was given a red card for a tip-tackle. The numbers on the pitch were even but with the Bay losing one of their forwards, they were exposed to a quality eight-man Maties pack in what had ostensibly become a forward battle by virtue of the weather conditions.
The contest was by no means over and the hosts too lifted their efforts to compensate the loss of a standout player, but the visitors sensed victory and were not intending to relinquish their lead, try as the Bay might to wrest it from them.
Swannepoel increased the Maties lead to five points with a penalty, still way too close for comfort. As the match entered the final quarter hour, the visitors used the one-man advantage in the pack to great effect, and frustrated False Bay’s efforts to break free and turn the game on its head.
A try by standout flank, Justin Benn, gave Maties the daylight they sought in the scoreline and also robbed the Constantia team of a losing bonus point for finishing within seven points.
The celebrations at the final whistle demonstrated to importance of this win for the young Maties team.
For False Bay, captain Graham Knoop stood out as did scrumhalf Dylan Frylinck.
False Bay host SK Walmers at Constantia on Saturday. Kick off is at 4pm, with the Under 20 teams starting proceedings at 1.30. All are welcome.