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THE two rugby matches played on Saturday had one thing in common — the size difference between the two sides at each ground. Comparatively, it was men against boys, and the boys were from KwaZulu-Natal.
Affies, the visitors against Maritzburg College, had a pack of forwards that would not have been out of place in a Super Rugby game. The High School All America side (HSAA) from the United States against Glenwood in Durban had big and strong forwards and backs, and looked like an U15 side against an open side.
Maritzburg College 6 Affies 19
The scrums were even, despite the College front row barely reaching the chins of the Affies front row, which included SA Schools’ player Pierre Schoeman. College struggled to win any lineout balls, and were outplayed in the rucks, but when they did win clean balls, their backline, despite missing both regular centres, showed some neat touches.
What characterised the game was the brave display in defence by the home side. With Affies having the greater share of possession, College were forced to tackle and tackle, if they were to keep Affies from running away with the game, as they had done in Pretoria last term.
They certainly put their bodies on the line, and at least five were either treated or left the field after tackles that they had made, the worst being hospitalisation for severe concussion suffered by centre Molelekoa.
Affies’ tactics could be questioned as they seemed intent on running over the College defence, by using brawn rather than skill to get around them.
First-time tackling was essential to prevent the forwards in particular, who stood off the rucks, from gaining momentum and then being very difficult to stop.
This College did admirably, and eventually conceded three tries. Affies made a lot of errors due to pressure brought about by the College defence. At the break, Affies led 12-0 after tries in the 12th and 32nd minutes. The first was a soft try due to a missed tackle, which allowed wing Markus Kleinbooi to use his pace to round the cover defence to score in the corner. The second was when Schoeman powered over from a lineout close to the tryline. Hennie Deale converted for their 12 points.
In the second half, Jesse Kriel, the College fullback who had some good touch finders, converted two penalties to bring College to within six points of the Affies score. With just five minutes remaining, lock Jan Kirsten scored from a five-metre penalty, and this was converted from close to the touchline by Deale, for their deserved but hard-fought win against the College side.
Glenwood 18 HSAA 14
The match was spoilt by the dirty behaviour of the players from the U.S., which caused the referee to abandon the game with 10 minutes still remaining. The team from the U.S., where rugby union is gaining popularity, had all the skills to be a competent unit, but unfortunately it appears as if some of the tactics used in American grid-iron were resorted to when the side was trailing for the first time.
The big and fast youngsters, chosen from all over the U.S., obviously expected to win, particularly after the runaway victory against the KZN Development XV last week. When Glenwood took the lead after Craig Geldenhuys scored in the corner, a scuffle broke out, with the U.S. defender upset that he had been beaten. A player who had already been subbed ran on from the sidelines to join in, and a player that was in the cooler for punching, ran the length of the field and head-butted Glenwood captain Niel Oelofse, who then needed medical attention. With fists flying from both sides, the referee blew the final whistle.
The trouble had started earlier, when Glenwood started running rings around the bigger U.S. backline with their superior skills, and a number of punches were thrown. The referee needed to have taken sterner action then, and perhaps the later fight may have been averted.
There was some rugby, and the visitors led 6-0 after two penalties. Flank Wayne Dalton then scored a try, following a lineout to make it 5-6. The bigger U.S. forwards muscled over again from a lineout, to move 11-5 in front.
After half-time, most of the Glenwood Craven Week players were brought on, and the slick backline began to move the ball to the wings. SA Schools’ wing Siyabonga Tom scored to bring Glenwood within a point of the U.S. at 10-11. The sides then traded penalties to leave the score 13-14, and that was when Geldenhuys scored after a drive down the blind side.
If this tour was to undertaken to improve players’ skills, the other aspects of sportsmanship need to be focused on as well. The coaches who were heard to incite the players from the sideline need to get better control of themselves and their players.
Glenwood coach Sean Erasmus, who missed the game as he was with the KZN U19 side, was shocked at the report he got, and he has contacted the HSAA management and asked for a written apology.