SA Schools hung on for a narrow 23-17 win against Wales at City Park Stadium on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
SA Schools will breathe a collective sigh of relief. They enjoyed a commanding 20-point lead as the game moved into the final 10 minutes. At that stage, they looked to be on course for a resounding win in this the first game of their U19 series campaign.
Instead, they were forced to fight tooth and nail in the latter stages to deny Wales a terrific come-from-behind victory. The visitors scored two late tries to reduce the deficit to six points. They may have scored a game-deciding third try if not for some poor handling right at the death.
In a sense, the final 10 minutes were as tense and hard fought as the initial exchanges. Gianni Lombard scored the first points when he kicked a penalty goal in the 24th minute. The talented fullback added another three points to the hosts’ tally in the 28th minute. Slowly but surely SA Schools were building momentum and starting to take control of the game.
Flanker Charl Serdyn was shown a yellow card for a neck grab in the 31st minute. This did little to deter SA Schools, however, who proceeded to finish the first half in powerful fashion.
The hosts set a lineout, and then mauled over the Welsh tryline. Hooker PJ Botha got the touchdown, and Lombard added the extras to stretch SA Schools’ lead to 13 points.
Wales threatened to hit back early in the second stanza. But after scoring a penalty goal through flyhalf Phil Jones, flank William Jones was shown a yellow card for a neck roll.
SA Schools proceeded to make their numerical advantage count. Wing Mike Mavovana made the initial break, and the attacking movement was eventually finished by centre Wandisile Simleane in the left-hand corner. At 18-3, the result looked to be in the bag.
Flyhalf Damian Willemse showed some neat touches over the course of the game. His line-kicking and distribution was good, while his incisive running set up the hosts’ third try. After beating several defenders, Willemse found centre Rikus Pretorius with a quality offload.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, the hosts began to lose concentration. They fell off tackles, and allowed Wales back into the contest.
Wales scored two converted tries in the space of four minutes. All the momentum was with the visitors at that point, and they may have scored another one or two tries if not for a couple of untimely handling errors.
SA Schools – Tries: PJ Botha, Wandisile Simelane, Rikus Pretorius. Conversion: Gianni Lombard. Penalties: Lombard (2).
Wales U19 – Tries: Jordan Liney, Will Talbot-Davies. Conversions: Ryan Conbeer (2). Penalty: Phil Jones.
SA Schools – 15 Gianni Lombard (Western Province), 14 Mike Mavovana (Western Province), 13 Wandisile Simelane (Golden Lions), 12 Rikus Pretorius (Free State), 11 Sihle Njezula (Eastern Province), 10 Damian Willemse (Western Province), 9 Rewan Kruger (Free State), 8 Khanya Ncusane (Western Province), 7 Muller Uys (Western Province), 6 Charl Serdyn (Western Province), 5 PJ Steenkamp (Blue Bulls), 4 Salmaan Moerat (c, Western Province), 3 Sazi Sandi (Eastern Province CD), 2 PJ Botha (Golden Lions), 1 Nathan McBeth (Golden Lions).
Subs: 16 Daniel Jooste (Western Province), 17 Reece Bezuidenhout (Western Province), 18 Johan Neethling (Western Province), 19 Ben-Jason Dixon (Western Province), 20 JC Pretorius (Pumas), 21 Richman Gora (Griffons), 22 Ruan de Swardt (Blue Bulls), 23 Manuel Rass (Western Province), 24 Muller du Plessis (Western Province), 25 Emilio Adonis (Blue Bulls), 26 Khwezi Mafu (Eastern Province).
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images