False Bay RFC ticked a number of boxes in their 5-7 defeat against Northern Suburbs rivals Durbanville-Bellville at Constantia on Saturday. The teams were scoreless at the break.
Often a close scoreline indicates a dour affair, a battle of attrition where the boot and territory possession dictates, but this warm-up friendly match was anything but that. Both teams came with the clear intention of playing rugby in preparation for the gruelling SLA 2017 season which starts in a little over a week.
The match lacked no intensity, it blazed with the fire rivals have for such contests and entertained with quality rugby, a trailer to what is expected to be the most hotly contested Super League A season in years.
Up front both teams delivered a physical, high quality performance with the False Bay tight five standing out, overshadowing their opponents in the scrums and pilfering some opposition lineouts.
Their experienced front row of Wesley Chetty, Vlam van Vuuren and Ashley Wells had the edge on their equally capable opponents while lock Simon Askew, starved of action since a season-ending knee injury sidelined him in May last year, revelled in being back on the pitch in his second outing of the season.
He carried the ball well and dovetailed seamlessly in the lineouts with his second row partner, Graham Knoop who delivered his usual high quality game. Flank Taps Tsamondo is finding his feet at the club and fast becoming a favourite through his fierce ball carrying. Eighthman Ryan Olivier is returning to form, while utility loose forward Michael Botha is growing in stature.
At the back, the Durbell line showed a willingness to run the ball, as did the Bay, and were particularly threatening on counter-attack. For the Bay Ridhaa Damon continued the role he shared last season with Dylan Frylinck, the latter raising the intensity from an already red-hot performance from the former. In the centre Jacques van Staden and Riaan O’Neill shone.
Durbell’s quality performance was epitomised by the efforts of lock Waldo Prinsloo, who scored his team’s try, livewire prop Ashton Constant and fullback Raymond Olivier. Flyhalf Janco Gunter marshalled his team well.
The IRB has introduced stricter measures around the high tackle and cleaning of the ruck area and the Constantia team felt the full brunt of the referee in these areas, earning two yellow cards in the process.
While seemingly pernicious in the eyes of the spectators, these areas are focus points currently and teams will need to adjust.
With the scores tied at the break, the second half was always going to be a humdinger and did not disappoint. Prinsloo’s try at the end of a series of around the maul drives, converted by Olivier broke the stalemate. Minutes later Tsamondo crashed over in the corner after the Bay strung some entertaining moves together. The conversion in the strong wind was always going to be difficult and missed the uprights, affording the visitors a narrow lead.
The hearts of the Bay support were broken when in the latter stages of the contest, Askew crashed over for False Bay, only to have the try denied by the assistant referee, victory slipping away with the decision.
False Bay head coach Johnno van der Walt finds himself in slightly unchartered waters in terms of the start of his season. In the preceding years under his charge, he has started training by 1 November of the previous year, with some January friendly matches against the Varsity Cup participants to get early indications of talent and combinations. With the Bay’s Gold Cup participation came a long season and very tired bodies and Van der Walt was forced to rest all players until early January.
“The squads and teams are settling in to some combinations and already we have seen a much better performance from all three teams over the last three weeks during our very tough warm-up schedule”, says Van der Walt. “To play Tygerberg away, Hammies at home and then Durbell at home is no easy task, with all three teams literally throwing the kitchen sink at us.
“We have chosen to rest certain players, to chop and change the squad which can be disruptive to any squad, but I feel the whole process has been worthwhile. We might not have had the desired results but in rugby there is always something to work on each week and we have learnt a lot”.
SLA 2017 promises to be a closely contested competition. The top tier teams will be challenged week in and week out and for the first time in a number of years, the contest is laden with 15 quality teams.
False Bay proved in SLA 2015, when they ended runners-up, that losing one game can be the difference between first and second spot and the league is strewn with banana peels waiting to trip the frontrunners up. Nothing can be taken for granted. False Bay open the season on Saturday April 2 against Hamiltons i * Green Point.
Jon Harris is a member of False Bay RFC.