False Bay RFC launched their 2016 Gold Cup campaign with an emphatic victory over KZN’s Durban Collegians at Constantia on Saturday. The final score was 37-19 after the Bay led 15-7 at the break.
The Gold Cup is SA Rugby’s national club championship and is being played in a new format this year. Previously a pre-season tournament between the top non-university teams in the country, it now runs post-season and includes a team each from Namibia and Zimbabwe.
False Bay qualified along with Durbanville-Bellville RFC, both clubs carrying the hopes that the cup can remain in the Cape, Durbell being defending champions.
The format of the competition means that all participating clubs are either current league-winners or in the case of qualifiers, top end finishers of their respective leagues and the rugby is expected to be of a high quality. Collegians, serial KZN champions and in their third Community/Gold Cup are one of the favourites for tournament honours and the Constantia club, dark horses by virtue of their pedigree, the hope of many who favour the underdog.
With a sizeable crowd in attendance, the Natalians arrived in summer kit, clearly unaware of the fickle spring weather for which the Cape is renowned.
The Durbanites may have been cold as they disembarked from the coach but they were piping hot by the time referee Nathan Swartz blew his opening whistle. Indeed their physicality sounded their intent from the beginning, locks Denham Fosteras and Chris van Leeuwen and flank Wade Elliott never far from the action.
Collegians ran straight and hard, perhaps a message to their opponents who they had clearly researched and assessed. They had indeed done their homework on the Bay’s game breakers and it was obvious that the Bay was up against a quality, wily outfit confident in their experience of the tournament.
This, however, is where the Constantia team deserve recognition. False Bay possess a blend of experience and youth, the core of the squad wisened, battle-scarred and reluctant to panic. Captain Graham Knoop and his band of brothers stood firm, especially in the opening quarter, defending gallantly and taking scoring opportunities when presented. During this period they scored two tries which if anything else, served to pressurise the visitors in terms of staying in touch on the scoreboard.
First was a well-worked try, the Bay hitting Collegians with a left-right-left combination, the ball coming left, then back on the right and left again to wing Mustaqueem Jappie. The dynamo, renowned for his deft footwork and sublime stepping, launched himself into the air, the usual precursor to a sidestep. Instead of moving laterally upon landing, he carried on straight in what amounted to a “straight-step”, which bamboozled his opponent. Minutes later, scrumhalf Dylan Frylinck caught the Durbanites napping as he took a quick penalty and crashed over at the end of a 30 metre dash for the line.
Stung into action, Collegians began to play their structured game, stringing phases together and stretching the Bay defences. Scrumhalf Dylan Marcus, relishing the battle of the Dylans at nine, sneaked around a ruck to score under the poles. The build up to that point included a majestic slice through the middle by left wing Sipho Mkize, which itself almost delivered a try but was stopped short by desperate home defence. Flyhalf Mondi Nkosi converted to bring the visitors within three points.
When not swirling, the wind was predominantly at the backs of the hosts in the first half and a healthy lead at the break was central to the Bay’s chances of an opening tournament victory. The visitors however appeared to be stirring, looking more and more threatening as the match entered the second quarter. The Bay led 15-7 at the break with some daylight between the two scores but would it be sufficient?
Deserved leaders, the Bay’s forwards overshadowed their opponents in set pieces and at the breakdown. Locks Knoop and Brandon Wood set about carrying the ball and hitting the rucks with venom.
Evergreen flank Justin van Winkel delivered his standard top quality play. False Bay’s scrum, with props Wesley Chetty and Ashley Wells and hooker Vlam van Vuuren in the vanguard delivered outstanding scrum form which was not always to the liking of referee Nathan Swartz who interpreted the ascendancy as illegal, penalising them repeatedly, the psychological victory theirs however.
The wind did not dissipate in the second half but its effect was countered by some sublime play by the hosts as they all but won the game in the third quarter. With their forwards showing greater control and a little bit of fatigue setting in with the visitors, the Bay hit their straps, scoring 17 points without answer in the first 20 minutes.
They threw the ball around with confidence and launched counter attacks from deep which had their opponents stretched.
Wing Danie Roux scored at try which has become his trademark, collecting a clearance kick 40 metres out and scoring at the end of a run which was mostly through opponents, occasionally around.
Eighthman Ryan Olivier, who had a good outing, followed up with a brace of tries and Collegians appeared buried. The visitors are a champion side and this loss is by no means the end of their road.
They demonstrated their class with two quality tries of clinical execution, both by centre Bradley Ellse, the first an immediate response to one of Olivier’s, the second later in the half which added respectability to the scoreline.
False Bay’s seventh try was a crowd favourite through both execution and the scorer. Jappie, now at fullback, collected on the half, zigged and zagged and then offloaded to replacement wing Roemark Smith, who with loads still to do, used pace and footwork to score.
One negative observation which cannot go unmentioned is that the Bay kickers only succeeded with one conversion attempt out of seven, a statistic which cannot be overlooked in a competition of champions.
False Bay travel to Brakpan this weekend for the second of their pool matches, but for the local club fans there is President’s Cup action at Constantia as the Bay host Victorians in the semi-finals of the WPRFU’s year-end competition.
Automatic semi-finalists by virtue of their top of the SLA finish, the Bay’s depth will be on display and indeed it promises to be an enthralling contest.
Filled with the desire to impress at the top level, False Bay is blessed with a depth of talent that would not be remiss in a club’s first team and these players are itching at the opportunity to prove their worth in their club’s First XV shirt.
Kick off at Constantia is at 4pm on Saturday.
* Jon Harris is a member of False Bay RFC.