What a good advert for schoolboy rugby this game turned out to be. With so much at stake in the form of the winner being crowned the number one KZN team for the season, Michaelhouse and Kearsney would have been forgiven for playing conservative, minimal risk rugby. Instead both teams did not disappoint, producing some of the most attractive rugby of the year.
The match started brightly enough for Kearsney. They dished out as much as they got in the form of positive attacks, is what amounted to a very even few opening rounds of action, reflected by the 6-6 score-line. However on about the 20th minute, the floor fell out from under Kearsney’s lineout game, very suddenly and unexpectedly. Up until that that point their set-piece it had been operating efficiently with good variation. As seen many times this season in big KZN games when lineouts start to malfunction they affect the outcomes. Kearsney were however fortunate to have a very dependable defensive system in place. Although they were pressed hard by House in the red zone, pressure that was compounded by not having any ball to work with, they kept their structure.
After repelled several offences, often forcing the hosts to make unforced errors close to the line, Kearsney eventually surrendered to a well taken try by hooker Stephan Hardman on half-time. Crucially Rob Anderson missed the relatively easy conversion which had a significant impact on the way the game ended.
It was 11-6 at the break.
Anderson had a below par day with the boot in general but everything else about his game was top notch. He tackled for all he was worth and his quickness on his feet was also evident. It was his passing game that stole the show though and in particular his ability to pinpoint Gordon Loubser-Hattingh with accurate cut-out passes when the fullback joined the line at full tilt. These off the chart distributions that opened up the Kearsney defence spoke volumes about this skill that the blonde flyhalf possesses.
It was Anderson’s combination with one of the players of the match no.8 Josh Moon that advanced the House lead to 18-6 in the second half.
Moon is a player blessed with having a good turn of pace and reliable hands but possibly his greatest gift lies in his ability to evaluate unfolding situations and respond to these in the blink of an eye. Many used the term rugby brain to describe this attribute, which clearly gives him an attacking edge on many of his competitors at this level. Moon often floated around and proved very difficult to mark. He was responsible for several promising and flashy carries but it was his contribution made shortly after the halftime break that was most vital on the day.
A few minutes into the second half, Moon dashed clear to collect a perfectly weighed Anderson chip in behind the flat defensive wall on the Kearsney 22. Fighting off the attention of the retreating Kearsney flyhalf Tristan Tedder, Moon gathered and eventually managed to force downward pressure while lying on his side under the posts. Controversially Tedder received a yellow card for presumably making an early tackle and at the time some even thought at that the referee had perhaps awarded a penalty try.
Anderson, the playmaker was at it again soon after the restart, igniting another move that threatened to open up the Kearsney defence. At that stage it looked as if the 14-man visitors were about to crumble.
Instead the exact opposite took effect. Kearsney gathered their composure and started to threaten House. Lineouts improved and with the return of quality ball, Kearsney were able to set up their dangerman Sandile Kubeka at centre for one of one match-ups from which they profited handsomely as he easily found ways to get across the advantage line. Michaelhouse were made to defend and unlike Kearsney, they resistance nearer the try-line was not as firm. Still down a man, Kearsney hit back with a close range try by captain Jono Deighton, converted by Kubeka to push the score to 18-13 after 12 minutes in the second half.
The excitement did not subside but the next score was made with only 5 minutes left on the clock. Another build-up saw Kearsney advancing to near the House line. Once again it was decisive play, this time initiated by Matt Reece-Edwards who’s dummy was bought by the home defence, affording him the opportunity to get through a hole and offload to Tyler Smith who then dived over for the 5-pointer.
Another amazing talent to come through this season has been Kearsney flyhalf Tristan Tedder. Although he’s by no means a flamboyant player, there is a great deal of maturity and accuracy in his execution, meaning he seldom makes poor decisions. Considering that he is still under-16 and quite a lightweight in size, there is still much time for him to improve plus get bigger and stronger over the next couple of years , which bodes well for his future in a Kearsney one-stripe jersey. Tedder’s coolly taken conversion from an outside foot angle amounted to his 20th success from 21 attempts in his last 5 games and put Kearsney ahead by 2 points at 20-18.
The visiting team’s comeback took a few seconds to sink in. It came as a surprise that Michaelhouse were now behind on the scoreboard. Nevertheless it was now the home team’s turn to step it up and show some fighting spirit. In this regard they did not let the large crowd down.
In the tensed finish imaginable, Kearsney were pinged for offside with just 3 minutes left. Anderson stepped up and missed from 40-metres out. Then with a minute 30 left, Kearsney went off their feet at a ruck and effectively prevented the ball from coming out on House’s side. Inspirational captain Justin Moberly, who himself had had an outstanding game, once again placed his trust in Anderson to land an even longer penalty than the one he had just missed. However from the halfway line, the flyhalf pushed his kick right and short. Kearsney failed to make a good clearance and House had one last chance.
Michaelhouse kept their wits about them under very testing circumstances and with virtually no space to work in and time up on the clock, they did enough to earn one last penalty from a high tackle near the Kearsney line.
Another brave decision followed and the weight of the world was placed on the right-footed Anderson’s shoulders to land a kick from the right-hand touchline. You would have heard a pin drop on Meadows field in Balgowan in the seconds before his kick, one that he’ll probably remember for the rest of his life, which he struck sweetly. The ball seemed to stay in the air for an age before decending between the sticks, confirmed by the raised flags of the officials.
21-20 is how this fantastic match ended. Michaelhouse were the victors in what has turned out to be a very successful and memorable season for the school. It must also be regarded as amongst the biggest turnarounds in fortunes of a KZN school in subsequent seasons considering how poor House’s results were in 2011. Even more remarkable has been the closeness of the key KZN matches played on the Meadows this season, where House have gone unbeaten with the largest winning margin being 3 points.
1 C Holenstein, 2 S Hartman, 3 C Whitting, 4 A Pienaar, 5 J Moberly (C), 6 L Strachan, 7 M Fenn, 8 J Moon, 9 C Brits, 10 R Anderson, 11 K Harrison, 12 D Stephen, 13 C Furniss, 14 B Arnott, 15 G Loubser-Hattingh
1 J Deighton (C), 2 J Meaker, 3 B Karnezos, 4 J Hirshovitz, 5 D Du Preez, 6 J Hayes-Hill, 7 J Du Preez, 8 A Schramm, 9 M Reece-Edwards, 10 T Tedder, 11 I Ngidi, 12 T Smith, 13 S Kubeka, 14 D Seals, 15 J Devine