Free State sealed a thrilling 63-41 win against the spirited Pumas at the U18 Craven Week at St Stithians on Wednesday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
In a 15-try cliffhanger, the teams produced a back and fourth clash by matching each other try for try until a late flurry of scores swung the match in Free State’s favour.
After a statement performance against Boland on the opening day, Free State looked like the team to beat this year. And while that may still be the case following Wednesday’s result, the Pumas – even in defeat – showed what type of rugby is needed to compete with this Free State outfit.
The Pumas were on the back-foot from the outset and had to play catch-up throughout the 70 minutes, but they fought valiantly. However, apart from flyhalf Stephan van der Bank’s wayward goal-kicking, the Pumas’ biggest flaw was conceding tries immediately after they had narrowed the gap themselves.
For Free State, it was business as usual. They continued to thrill the crowd by running the ball from all over the field, and this approach landed them nine tries on the day, taking their tally for the tournament to 21 (more than any other team so far).
Inside centre Rikus Pretorius and hooker Ruhann Greyling scored two tries each for Free State, while teammate Christopher Schreuder was flawless off the kicking tee with nine conversions from as many attempts.
Early scores by Grey College duo Arno Nieuwoudt, Janco van Heyningen and Pretorius gave Free State a 21-3 lead. But the Pumas closed the gap to one at the break with three tries of their own. Two of them came after Free State’s Van Heyningen was yellow-carded for foul play.
Free State outscored the Pumas six tries to three in the second half, as both teams showed little regard for defence.
Fullback David Kriel had an opportunity to extend Free State’s advantage soon after the restart, but he went for the spectacular swan-dive finish in the corner and lost control of the ball. Another chance went begging when Pretorius knocked on over the tryline. But once he started to convert those opportunities, the tries came in a cluster.
Luckily for the Pumas, they managed to score through Van der Bank, centre Thabiso Mkwebane and wing Prince Nkebinde to keep the scoreline respectable.
One worry for Free State going forward will be their defensive organisation or lack thereof.
Free State – Tries: Arno Nieuwoudt, Janco van Heyningen, Rikus Pretorius (2), Ruhann Greyling (2), Keaton Swart, Luke Janse van Rensburg, Teboho Rampai. Conversions: Christopher Schreuder (9).
Pumas – Tries: Tiaan de Beer, Teboho Mosia (2), Stephan van der Bank, Thabiso Mkwebane, Prince Nkebinde. Conversions: Stephan van der Bank (4). Penalty: Van der Bank.
Free State – 15 David Kriel, 14 Martin Lottering, 13 Henk Cilliers, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Janco van Heyningen, 10 Christopher Schreuder, 9 Keaton Swart, 8 Arno Nieuwoudt, 7 Luke Janse van Rensburg, 6 Teboho Rampai, 5 Marcel Theunissen, 4 Lekobe Mphuthi, 3 Naude Naude, 2 Ruhann Greyling, 1 Andile Maxamba.
Subs: 16 Shuraigh Lalla, 17 Herman Agenbag, 18 De Wet Marais, 19 Lebo Molefe, 20 Ross Braude, 21 Wycliff Vlitoor, 22 Jayden Seekoei.
Pumas – 15 Joao Christovam, 14 Teboho Mosia, 13 Thabiso Mkwebane, 12 Riekert Barnard, 11 Prince Nkabinde, 10 Stephan van der Bank, 9 Uys du Preez, 8 Calvin Clack, 7 Renier Troskie, 6 Lindelani Makhane, 5 Marius Slabbert, 4 Tiaan de Beer, 3 Gerald van Eeden, 2 Duart Willemse, 1 Nkosinathi Mthethwa.
Subs: 16 SP Muller, 17 Banele Mthenjane, 18 Wian Otto, 19 Sibusiso Madonsela, 20 TBC, 21 Tshepho Malumane, 22 Sphe Mthethwa.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images