Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux expressed his satisfaction as the SA U19s ground out a morale-boosting 28-21 victory in a hard-fought and physical encounter against Georgia at the Shevardeni Rugby Stadium in Tbilisi on Monday, in what marked the first of two matches between the teams in the country’s capital.
Making the victory even more rewarding was the fact that the South Africans received three yellow cards in the match, which saw them play with 14 men for 30 of the 80 minutes.
The first half was hard-fought as both teams threw everything at one another on attack and stood firm on defence, but Georgia’s two penalty goals and two tries – one of which was converted – to only two converted tries by the SA U19s, allowed the home side to sneak into an 18-14 lead shortly before halftime.
Roux’s charges hit back after the break to add two converted tries, taking their tally in the match to four, while they limited the hosts to one penalty goal.
“It was a tough game, especially in the windy and cold conditions, which the players are not used to,” said Roux. “But our defence held well, and we managed to keep them out over several phases.
“That said, the score wasn’t the most important aspect of the match for us, it was more the opportunity to assess the players and to get to know them better under tough circumstances. And it certainly says a lot about their character.”
With a second match-up lined up against Georgia on Thursday, Roux said: “The areas we need to work on going forward are our discipline – we cannot afford to get three yellow cards – and our penalty count, as we conceded almost 15 penalties in the match.
“But this is a learning process. Most players met one another for the first time last week Monday, and it is pleasing to see how things are coming together.”
Roux added: “With regards to injuries, it doesn’t look like we have any serious concerns, but we will look to make a few changes for the next match.”
The SA U19s showed their intent from the outset as they worked their way close to the tryline twice early on, and their efforts finally paid off less then 10 minutes into the match with Werner Gouws (flanker) touching down after good phases and patience on attack. Scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse added the conversion to push them 7-0 ahead.
The team was dealt a double blow as Hendrikse received a yellow card for cynical play at a ruck, and Dewald Donald (prop) was sent to the sin bin next in the 18th and 29th minute respectively. The hosts capitalised on this with two penalty goals by Lasha Lomidze to reduce their deficit to 7-6.
The SA U19s hit back with Zwelendaba Mnombo (centre) scoring their second try in the 32nd minute despite being reduced to 14 men, and yet again Hendrikse’s conversion was successful.
The team, however, let their lead slip as Georgia fought back strongly in the dying minutes, which saw Saba Kuratashvili (hooker) and Giorgi Margaltadze (scrumhalf) score back-to-back tries from some enterprising attacking play, which nudged them into a 18-14 halftime lead.
The visitors started the second half on a disappointing note with Stravino Jacobs (winger) receiving a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, and Lomidze converted this opportunity into points by slotting over his third penalty goal for a 21-14 lead.
The SA U19s struck back in the 56th minute with a try by captain and hooker, JJ Kotze, compliments of a strong rolling maul, and the conversion by Juan Mostert (flyhalf), allowed them to level the scores.
Bernard van der Linde added the team’s fourth try in the 57th minute thanks to a sniping run and the conversion pushed them 28-21 ahead with a little over 10 minutes to play.
Georgia tried hard to force their way back into the game in the remaining minutes, but the visitors’ solid defence shut them out, and allowed them to seal the seven-point victory.
Georgia U19 21 (18) – Tries: Saba Kuratashvili, Giorgi Margaltadze. Conversion: Lasha Lomidze. Penalty Goals: Lasha Lomidze (3).
SA U19 28 (14) – Tries: Werner Gouws, Zwelendaba Mnombo, JJ Kotze, Bernard van der Linde. Conversions: Jaden Hendrikse (2), Juan Mostert (2).