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7 October 2017

Photos: Courtesy Henry Sharky Rutherford  

DirectAxis False Bay RFC pulled off an injury-time coup when they beat their more fancied hosts College Rovers in their final Gold Cup pool match in Durban on Saturday. The final score was 15-14 after the Constantia team trailed 7-14 at the break.


Both teams had already qualified for the knockout stages and with a home quarter final the prize for the victors, there was more than just pride at stake. The Gold Cup is SA Rugby's national club championship which uses the Rugby World Cup format of four pools, each of five teams playing a round robin league with the top two teams qualifying for the knockout stages. The team finishing top of the table hosts a quarter final match against a team finishing second in a predetermined pool. Travel is relatively new to the majority of players and poses certain challenges as a result. Playing in front of a home crowd with limited travel disruption is the prize sought by all teams, so Saturday's contest had a lot at stake. Regarded by pundits as two of the teams to watch in this year's competition, it was no surprise that the rugby produced was reminicent of a final.


Uncompromising defence, hard and straight running and the flexing of rugby muscle were features of a contest in which the Durbanites headed towards victory and the Bay would be travelling to George for their quarter final match on Saturday. Until, the assistant referee identified an early tackle by a Rovers player forty metres from the Bay line. At first it appeared that the home team broke the hearts of the visiting support as they scored the try that sealed the victory at the end of a counter-attack started by the tackle turnover. In that move Bay fullback, Mustaqeem Jappie was left sprawled on the Durban turf after coming off the worse for wear while trying to recover a kick ahead by the hosts. There was nothing untoward in that collision but the tackle sixty metres back was deemed illegal and the Bay were awarded a penalty, a lifeline on which to cling for the visitors.


Up stepped flyhalf, Dr Meyryck Ward. Recently award his Doctorate in Chemistry, the kicker had earlier missed an attempt from almost the same tuft of grass. He placed the ball and calmly guided it between the uprights, referee Archie Sehlakho signalled the end of a tough contest as it touched he ground. The hosts were gutted, the visitors elated.


False Bay opened the scoring on the day with a try by veteran prop Ashly Wells, which was started by wily scrumhalf Ridhaa Damon who caught Rovers off guard with a quick tap and go from a penalty on the halfway line. Fullback Adnaan Osman converted. It was a rare excursion into the Rovers half, as the visitors were pinned in their own territory for an extended period in the opening stages, a combination of relentless attacks by the hosts and a slew of decisions against the visitors.


The physicality of the contest cannot be downplayed. Hard, clean and uncompromising play from both sides indicated the importance of the result to both teams. False Bay held the edge in the scrums in the first half, young prop Wesley Futter delivering a powerhouse display of scrumming against his more fancied opponent. On the other side of the front row, try-scorer Wells was devastating and hooker Vlam van Vuuren was on fire. The defence systems of the Bay were relentlessly tested when Rovers were on attack, repelled time and again by a band of Bay defenders determined to keep their line intact.


Last year's Gold Cup Player of the Tournament, Tythan Adams crossed for a try for the hosts as did Matt Jones. Both tries were converted by stand-in kicker Mondli Nkosi, who inherited the kicking duties after the early injury to the regular kicker Gavin Scott. The hosts threatened False Bay's lines often during the encounter and were constantly rebuffed by determined and proud defence.


The Constantia outfit, after a sluggish first half, delivered a vastly improved second forty minutes. Indeed the physicality of the contest resulted in countless injury breaks and a running time of fifty minutes per half. By now the visitors were beginning to threaten their opponent's line with greater regularity, flank Michael Botha at the bottom of a drive over the Rovers line to score his team's second try. The conversion narrowly missed and the visitors were trailing by two points with the clock ticking and defence resolute. Regardless of this, False Bay kept on chipping away and in turn the hosts remained a threat on attack.


It was a stare-down with a physical edge and someone had to blink. At first glance it appeared as if False Bay were the first to fold. In their opponent's half and building phases, they suddenly found themselves under their own poles, referee Sehlanlo's arm raised to award a try to the hosts, until the intervention of the assistant referee and Dr Ward's heroics.


For College Rovers veteran flyalf Chris Jordaan was outstanding, forming a threatening partnership with scrumhalf Warren Randal. Locks Chris vanLeeuwen and Matt Tweedle secured good ball and got around the pitch well.

Outstanding for the Bay were loose forwards Botha, Jody Reyneke and Ryan Olivier. Centre Riaan O'Neil and replacement hooker Roa Dalzelle revelled against their former club.


"This is definitely the most unpredictable and thrilling edition of the Gold Cup (or iys predecessor) so far", says Duan Heath, Project Manager Gold Cup. "There have been over 2400 points scored in the 40 pool matches alone and when the defending champions have to win their final group match to qualify, you know it's been as tough as nails. It's impossible to predict a winner from the quarterfinalists although home ground advantage at this stage is a big trump card, especially for the Cape sides False Bay and Tygerberg, whose large crowds are worth an extra 10 points on the day", he said.


False Bay host Progress George at Constantia on Saturday. Kick off is at 3pm and all are welcome.


- Jon Harris

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