As Grey College and Maritzburg College ran on to the field, the heavens opened and the rain bucketed down for a while. These sporadic downfalls continued throughout the match. With Grey’s backs being rated countrywide as the danger factor this season, the wet ball-handling conditions coupled with them being without their dynamic first choice centre combination of Rikus Pretorius and Janco van Heyningen, gave an impression that the playing fields had perhaps evened out a little more. However Goldstones field held firm underfoot and even without those two star players, Grey’s backs still managed to put on a dominant and well-judged exhibition in the first half, scoring 25 of the points that paved the way to an eventual 30-3 victory.
The centre stage was shared by two unflappable Grey players, flyhalf Christopher Schreuder and fullback David Kriel. Saying that they both had outstanding matches almost seems like an understatement. The evidence of this match suggests that Schreuder is arguably the best flyhalf Grey has produced since Johan Goosen donned on the navy blue 10-jersey, while Kriel is just the next in a line of top class tall fullbacks that the Bloemfontein rugby factory has developed, with the likes of EW Viljoen, Henry Immelman and Riaan Britz being a few of the 15-jersey crowd-pleasers that come to mind. Both current 1st XV players displayed exceptional run-pass-kick skills. They were ably backed up by standout performances from scrumhalf Ross Braude and right wing Henk Cilliers. The Grey forwards worked tirelessly in the engine-room and were uncompromising on defence where they just absolutely refused to allow College chances to build any sort of continuity or momentum.
A bit of a controversial decision was the starting point for the first try of the match. Grey’s Braude appeared to have knocked on after struggling to recover a kicked ball that landed in the middle of the park but the old adage of play to the whistle was applied by the visitors and as quick as a flash a virtually unmarked outside centre Richard Kriel (younger brother of David) exploited the big gap ahead of him before linking up with wing Cilliers who rounded off in the right corner, making it 5-0.
The next score to make it 8-0 was initiated from a defensive position after College had kicked ahead. Once Grey regained possession, Schreuder and D.Kriel’s perfectly timed syncing, which involved the flyhalf hoisting a well-weighted high ball into College territory where his chasing lanky fullback rose and towered above the opposition contester to pluck it out sky – a retention that setup a recycled breakdown from which Grey advanced play via a ball carry and won an offside penalty at the next ruck. Schreuder’s left boot added the 3.
Another marginal decision went against College. On this occasion whilst on attack key player centre Njebulo Mjara was adjudged to have knocked on. From the scrum that followed Grey worked a right blindside set move incorporating D. Kriel injecting pace as he joined from a deeper position and set Henk Cilliers on his way. The fast wing had his work cut out as three defenders in succession closed him down but his low centre of gravity strength saw him retain his upright balance though the contacts en route to a very good try in right corner and a 13-0 lead to the boys in blue.
As mentioned it was a match in which College’s attack just could not/was not allowed to get going and when they enjoyed two good passages of rare attacking play, it must have been heart-breaking for the home supporters to see Grey then make the difficult look easy to swing play around the territorial advantage and score their third try. This one started from a lineout setpiece well inside Grey’s own half. While they mauled it up, hooker Ru-hann Greyling burst off the side with energy and drove play upfield. The ball carry combined with quickball from the go-forward, allowed the in-form Schreuder to glide into a gap on the big blind left where he hooked up with his left wing Marius Kearney via a try-assisting inside pass after the line-break. The 5-pointer also resulted in Schreuder’s only easy placement conversion attempt of the match, making it 20-0 just 15 minutes into the game. Although the flyhalf was striking the ball well, the radar was slightly off with 4 acute angle conversions being missed during the match.
One of the pleasing aspects of the match was College’s lineout variation and success rate. In the type of weather that often results substandard lineout throw-ins, hooker Fez Mbatha did quite well and announced himself as a strong Craven Week reselection candidate. Another player who selectors will have to take seriously is versatile and tough utility back featuring at flyhalf Jaco Truter, who had a difficult afternoon along with his teammates but showed signs of being a well above average competitor. From ball won at a lineout in the 25th minute, Truter came up with a useful chip over the top and he just-just could not get his foot to the grounded ball a second time to really threaten Grey even further behind their seemingly impossible to penetrated first line defence. Here in the broken play Grey retrieved the ball on their 10m line and blitzy little scrummie Braude got away through a hole down the middle of the park. He supplied Schreuder who cantered in for the last score before the break, 25-0.
Innovative and tactical kicks have become part and parcel of modern day rugby and in some cases vital to open up organised defences, however these kinds of plays are not without high turnover risks attached. Against Grey, College were paying a dear price for a few of their attempted creative kicks. Just before the break Grey wing Kearney knocked on near the line after another kick gone wrong had allowed D.Kriel and Schreuder to combine set up the try-scoring chance. The aerial ping-pong duels during the match also tended to go Grey’s way thanks to the range and accuracy of their 10 and when required their 15 too.
The second half was by no means a showpiece, with the weather having more of a say and handling errors creeping into Grey’s game as well. It was 35-minutes for the home support to be proud of their Maritzburg College team’s character though. A different opponent faced with the same challenges might have buckled but the persistent College team fought bravely to match Grey and shut out the kind of opportunities that had kept the scoreboard ticking in the first stanza. Their improved efforts resulted in a respectable 5-3 scoreline for the half. Even though there is much work to be done on creating try-scoring plays, College can feel positive about achieving success in the months to come. The College points came from the boot of fullback Matthew Willemse, after Grey had been pinged at a ruck in the 39th minute (25-3). The hosts had a couple of other promising field positions during the half but bad passing and perhaps occasional impatience didn’t allow them to take advantage.
Around the 42nd minute a series of penalties awarded to Grey helped them get deep into the red zone where after a couple of onslaughts the ball was slickly passed to Schreuder to Richard Kriel to the right wing Cilliers who completed his hat-trick, making it 30-3.
In the end it was a comfortable win on a ground where Grey hasn’t always had their own way in the past. With much of their annual extremely challenging season still lying ahead, there are bound to be more and far harder questions asked of Grey College’s attack and defensive abilities. On the evidence offered during this match, they have a team capable of producing all the answers all the way to the season end in August.
In closing congratulations must go to both sets of schoolboys seated on the bank who were exposed to Mother Nature’s elements. The adverse weather was no match of their non-stop loud singing in support of their respective teams. They were outstanding and continued to add the amazing atmosphere synonymous with schoolboy rugby that senior rugby in now struggling to mimic.