The Golden Lions scored 34 unanswered second-half points to clinch a 45-18 win against the Sharks and be crowned unofficial U18 Craven Week champions. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
It is the first time the Lions have won the main match at Craven Week since 2005.
The Sharks came into this game as one of two teams, along with Free State, with a 100% winning record. They had also struck the perfect balance between attack and defence in all their games.
By contrast, the Lions drew their previous game against Western Province, but were given free passage into the ‘final’ as the host union.
In the end, though, how the teams got to the main game of the tournament mattered little. The boys played what was in front of them and the Lions came out on top, courtesy of a second-half masterclass.
Lions fullback Kennedy Mpeku claimed a 20-point haul via four conversions and four penalties.
A penalty goal by Mpeku, coupled with an opportunistic intercept try from winger Tino Swanepoel, pushed the Lions out to an eight-point lead.
The Lions’ forwards were bullish and dominated the contact area, but the Sharks steadily worked their way into the game and the lead. Influential scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba opened KZN’s account with a penalty and that was followed by two tries by fleet-footed backs Conan le Fleur and Cham Zondeki to put the Sharks ahead.
There would be no more tries in an energy-sapping first half, but the kickers traded penalties right on the stroke of half-time as the Sharks took an 18-11 advantage into the interval.
In a total turnaround of fortunes, it was then a red tide that hit the Sharks at full speed. Lock Franco Schutte’s try immediately after the restart drew the scores level and Mpeku then proceeded to put the Lions in front. It was a lead they would hold until the end.
The Sharks had every right to feel cheated, though, after Zondeki had a second try ruled out. He was deemed to have grazed the touchline, despite numerous TMO reviews from different angles showing no clear evidence of him touching the line.
Helpmekaar duo David Cary and Mark Snyman then did their school proud on the big stage with two excellent tries in quick succession, and when Mpeka nailed another penalty, the writing was on the wall for the Sharks.
But PJ Jacobs would have the final say with another try in the last minute of the game to cap off a memorable performance.
Golden Lions – Try: Tino Swanepoel, Franco Schutte, David Cary, Mark Snyman, PJ Jacobs. Conversion: Mpeku (4). Penalties: Mpeku (4).
Sharks – Tries: Conan le Fleur, Cham Zondeki. Conversion: Sanele Nohamba. Penalties: Nohamba (2).
Golden Lions – 15 Kennedy Mpeku, 14 David Cary, 13 Leon Mpeku, 12 Yanga Hlalu, 11 Tino Swanepoel, 10 Marc Morrison, 9 Tinus Combrinck, 8 Travis Gordon, 7 PJ Jacobs, 6 Mark Snyman, 5 Kegan Litchfield, 4 Kwagga van Niekerk, 3 Keagan Glade, 2 Dameon Venter, 1 Nkosikhona Masuku.
Subs: 16 Morne Brandon, 17 Ruhan Oosthuizen, 18 Asenathi Ntlabake, 19 Stephan le Roux, 20 Franco Schutte, 21 Luke Rossouw, 22 Tyler Hayward, 23 Muzi Manyike.
Sharks – 15 Siyanda Cele, 14 Njabulo Mjara, 13 Conan le Fleur, 12 Rynhardt Jonker, 11 Cham Zondeki, 10 Dylan Pretorius, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Dylan Richardson, 6 Dylan Kruger, 5 JJ van der Mescht, 4 Edward Laubscher, 3 Keynan Knox, 2 Fezokuhle Mbatha, 1 Jordan Clarke.
Subs: 16 Daniel Truter, 17 Thabiso Mdletshe, 18 Brendon Schwuister, 19 Celimpilo Gumede, 20 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Morne van Rensburg, 23 Lwandile Menze.