Western Province were crowned unofficial champions of the U18 Craven Week after beating the Golden Lions 27-20 on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The 53rd annual Craven Week culminated in a riveting contest between the tournament’s two most enterprising teams, with WP ultimately prevailing to win their second consecutive unofficial final.
WP and the Lions had played an expansive brand of rugby throughout the week but, perhaps realising the enormity of the occasion, were a little more restrained on Saturday and looked to gain the ascendancy through forward and territorial dominance. They punched and counter-punched like two heavyweights in a boxing ring.
WP had been the most complete team this year, while the Lions’ Wandisile Simelane had emerged as the star individual. But no one stood out more than Province’s Gianni Lombard when the occasion demanded a hero. The fullback delivered a masterclass, marshalling his side’s attack superbly and creating all three of WP’s tries. Simelane too had a few promising moments, but poor support play meant most of his efforts went unrewarded.
WP made a confident start to the game, with the Lions trapped inside their own half for long periods. But despite WP’s early probing, they were unable to convert dominance into points as the Lions defence held firm early on, denying captain Salmaan Moerat a try after he had carried the ball over the line.
A penalty either way kept the sides deadlocked at 3-3, before Lombard started to weave his magic. The Lions-bound player ghosted through the opposition’s defence to set up outside centre Manie Rass for the opening try. Lombard followed up with a successful conversion and penalty to put the reigning champions 13-3 up.
The Lions hit back when flyhalf Tyrone Green coasted through for a great solo try, after just their second visit to WP’s 22. But again, just when momentum seemed to be swinging in the Lions’ favour, WP – and more specifically Lombard – hit back.
Five minutes after the Lions reduced the deficit to three, WP’s pack rumbled forward. From there Lombard, who was up in the line, called for the ball and distributed it to flank Muller Uys with a lovely skip pass to crash over in the right-hand corner. Lombard then used his vision to steer the touchline conversion over for a 20-10 lead at the break.
The Lions looked more composed in the second half. The scrum and lineout, which had been functioning well for both teams, started to go in the Lions’ favour and they were rewarded with a try by Tatenda Mujawo.
WP once again relied on Lombard to get them back on track. They pounced on a Lions handling error to gain possession and Lombard made a mini-break in midfield before throwing a long pass to Paarl Boys’ teammate Khanya Ncusane, who did the rest.
There was still time for a Lions comeback and Simelane nailed a penalty to put them within seven again, but WP had no intention of relinquishing the title they had won last year and kept the Lions at bay for the rest of the match.
Western Province – Tries: Manie Rass, Muller Uys, Khanya Ncusane. Conversions: Gianni Lombard (3). Penalties: Lombard (2).
Golden Lions – Tries: Tyrone Green, Tatenda Mujawo. Conversions: Wandisile Simelane (2). Penalties: Simelane (2).
Western Province – 15 Gianni Lombard, 14 Mike Mavovana, 13 Manie Rass, 12 Wian van Niekerk, 11 Muller du Plessis, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Deon Carstens, 8 Khanya Ncusane, 7 Muller Uys, 6 Anthi Magwala, 5 Salmaan Moerat, 4 BJ Dixon, 3 Johan Neethling, 2 Daniel Jooste, 1 Reece Bezuidenhout.
Subs: 16 Liam Larkan, 17 Tristan Leitch, 18 Andre Booysen, 19 Jessie Johnson, 20 Charl Serdyn, 21 Vusile Dlepu , 22 Lubelo Scott, 23 Quan Eymann.
Golden Lions – 15 Chuiner van Rooyen, 14 David Cary, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Kalvin Mills, 11 Tatenda Mujawo, 10 Tyrone Green, 9 Tinus Combrinck, 8 PJ Jacobs, 7 Tiaan Scholtz, 6 Mark Snyman, 5 Christen van Niekerk, 4 Christopher Havenga, 3 Keagan Glade, 2 Pieter Botha, 1 Nathan McBeth.
Subs: 16 Dameon Venter, 17 Mpilo Mabuza, 18 Asenathi Ntlabajanye, 19 Darrien-Lane Landsberg, 20 Enrico Liut, 21 MJ Pelser, 22 Maxwill van Louw, 23 Kennedy Mpeku.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images