Believe it or not Maritzburg College and Glenwood have drawn for the second time this season. Unlike the first encounter which was hindered by poor conditions, this match was a spectacle of note. The boys produced one of the most exciting duels of the entire KwaZulu-Natal season. With 50-minutes up on the clock, College looked dead and buried at 22-6 down. They seemed to have no answers to offer to Glenwood’s blitz backline attacks. Somehow from somewhere deep within College found inspiration. 15 minutes and three tries later College lead 27-22. It was then Glenwood’s turn to show character. They did, scoring the equalising try off the last move of the game. Awesome stuff from both teams but definitely no good for the nervous systems or hearts of any persons with vested interests in the outcome, especially the opposing coaches. The game on Goldstones ended at 27-27.
Even before the kickoff, injuries were at the forefront of events. Glenwood suffered setbacks with Warren Potgieter and Derwent Stopforth being withdrawn prior to the start. College, who were already without Jesse Kriel due to SA Schools commitments, made a late change at scrumhalf when Josh Rencken was ruled out and things when from bad to worse for the hosts when they lost first choice kicker and midfield stalwart Marcell Coetzee to a groin injury just minutes into the game. During the match itself both sides made extensive use of the replacements bench as the effects of a long hard season continued to take it’s toll.
A couple of these enforced changes paved the way for two unlikely heroes to emerge. Glenwood’s under-16 fullback Morné Joubert was drafted into the team at the last minute. He was essentially brought in for his place-kicking ability. However he shone in every other facet of play. His decision-making was on the button. Much of what he did on the field suggests that he is a star player in the making. On at least two or three occasions he was left up against genuine speedsters in true last line of defence situations and came out on top every time as a result of not panicking and making some sound tackles. With the ball his counterattacking was intelligent and effective.
Then there was also young College fullback Jason Alexander. In a way Alexander had been the winner of a talent search at College to find the best possible fullback replacement for Kriel. Amongst the 29 serious faces that ran onto Goldstones field on the day, Alexander’s was the only one containing a smile. It was a clear indication that the fiery little red-haired was there to enjoy himself and make full use of his opportunity. There were a couple of times when the yougster’s adventurous style stopped a few hearts beating though. The faster pace of first team rugby seemed to catch the debutant out when he tried to return kicks by maneuvering past rushing defenders without supporter players around. Otherwise it was a pleasure to witness a fullback joining the line at the right times, showing good hands and offloading accurate passes for anyone on his outside to race onto. However it was in the kicking department that Alexander had to show his true worth on the day. With the loss of Coetzee, the duties of kicker were handed to Alexander. After a very nervous looking first kick that crept over the bar he grew in confidence with his last shot at goal being a vital conversion that he slotted from an acute angle.
Before the season began, there was an idea that the Green Machine backline would be hot. This did not happen for difficult to figure out reasons. They struggled for fluency for the best part of the year. However in this game they finally clicked and played to true potential. There are few substitutes for speed on the rugby field and when combined with accuracy and support runners picking the right lines alongside carriers, it’s a lethal attacking weapon. The flashy Glenwood backs were on fire but can’t take full credit on their own. They received boosts from well-timed runs by pacey forwards. Here the contribution of flank Muziwandile Mazibuka was monumental. He made good yards and was also the opening try scorer in the second minute.
College reduced it to 5-3 with Alexander’s first success. However due to the fullback’s limited range, College had to turn down at least three kickable penalty on the day that were well within the bounds of injured Coetzee’s big boot.
Joubert extended the lead to 8-3 with a 40-metre penalty before Alexander responded to make it 8-6 after 22 minutes. It was still a very even contest by this stage with both teams producing offensive highlights but defences generally having the final say. College would go on to miss a penalty. They kept up the pressure on and while making good assault in the red zone, coughed the ball up. Zee Mkhabela, so often the starting point of Glenwood attacks, collected and kicked the loose ball down field. Sparks Ngcobo then answered any and all questions about who the fastest player on the pitch was, as he left his opposite number in his wake to get to the ball first and then carry it in for the try.
With the score now 15-6 in Glenwood’s favour, Ngcobo almost scored a second try. Glenwood also came close from an attacking lineout shortly thereafter. The period just before the halftime break clearly belonged to the visitors.
College re-gathered themselves after the break but could not turn sustained red zone pressure into points. Glenwood then almost extended their lead via a try only for the referee to call play back to the spot inside the College 22-metre area where he indicated that Unathi Makazi had passed the ball ever so marginally forward. In the 13th minute of the half Glenwood finally made the first breakthrough of the half thanks to a sublime attacking move. A ruck had formed on the halfway line. Once the ball emerged, Glenwood shifted it a high speed and with lots of go forward to the right. Wing Nkosi was the finisher of a brilliant team try. Joubert added his second conversion to make it 22-6.
College had to take risks to get back in the game. In the 22nd minute Alexander’s cheeky chip over Glenwood’s defensive wall from inside his own 22 provided Banele Ngwenya with an opportunity to attack and put College onto the front foot. Moments later Cyle Muil’s cuting run got the home team to with metres of the try-line. Here they won a penalty and from the quick tap Rett Pieterse eventually forced his way over. Alexander converted to make it 22-13.
The game was being played at a frantic pace and Ngwenya almost scored from the next kickoff. Substitute scrumhalf Ayanda Jili then had a good run for the Red, Black, White. Both break outs were halted by Joubert’s defensive work. College pressed hard. They desperately moved a ball wide without an overlap or seemingly any hope of anything good coming of it before Nicholas Muller offloaded the perfect long flat pass, allowing Ngwenya to get on the outside of his man and score in the 28th minute. Alexander was bang on target again to take matters to 22-20.
Two minutes late College went in front for the very first time. Muller collected a ball from an attacking lineout set-piece. Patient pick and drives by the hosts followed until eventually captain Reegan Smith was on hand to power his way over. The College stands erupted. It was unbelievable comeback. Alexander’s conversion made it 27-22 to College.
Glenwood looked like they had blown their chances by throwing away a healthy lead. They were however not done. The boys in green and white should a tremendous amount of mental strength. There was also a bit of bravery involved when captain Marne Coetzee opted for an attacking scrum after a free kick had been awarded just before time was up. The Glenwood scrum had been under undue pressure from College for most of the game. The gamble paid off with Glenwood first using a blindside drive followed by an openside drive and finally passing the ball rapidly to the left where replacement left winger Reuben Fouche dived over in the corner for the equaliser. The composure shown by Glenwood was worthy of praise.
Understandably neither team looked overly pleased with the final outcome. What they might not have realised is that they had endorsed everything that is good about schoolboy rugby in South Africa during 70 minutes of non-stop action. The marvelous showpiece highlighted the good spirit and quality that both schools have in their respective rugby programmes.
Maritzburg College Team:
15 J Alexander,14 C Muil,13 M Coetzee,12 M Janse Van Rensburg,11 B Ngwenya,10 L Booysen,9 K Elder,8 R Smith (C),7 C Christie,6 N Muller,5 R Kamhoot,4 R Pieterse,3 M Khumalo,2 V Khatide,1 N Gumede
Glenwood Team :
15 M Joubert,14 Nkosi,13 N Marwana,12 A Nela,11 S Ngcobo,10 U Makasi,9 M Mkhabela,8 C Swart,7 M Mazibuko,6 R Kay,5 S Ngxabi,4 M Van Aardt,3 M Coetzee (C),2 K Westman,1 M Worral-Clare