The SA Schools team left it till the final play of their opening match in the Aon Under-18 International Series against Wales at Boland Landbou on Friday to clinch a hard-fought, but deserved 43-40 win over Wales.
It was a tight match all along, with the lead changing several times, but a try right at the death by replacement-scrumhalf, Jurich Claasens, secured the win for South Africa, much to the delight of SA Schools coach, Sean Erasmus.
“We are really happy for this win. Our motto for the series is character and commitment and we needed both to beat Wales today. That is really pleasing that we never gave up and fought for that win till the very last play,” Erasmus said afterwards.
The coach admits that the lack of concentration on defence will need to be rectified before Tuesday when they meet France in the second round of matches, to be played at Stellenberg High School in Durbanville.
France earlier outplayed England 41-21.
“We need to communicate better, especially from the outside in, as we were found wanting that regard today,” Erasmus admitted.
“We were only together for less than a week though, so will improve as we go along. Wales really tested us today and everyone experienced a lift in the level of competitiveness and probably played their toughest match yet today.”
Wales started strongly, with good variation between their pack’s driving play and straight running in the midfield. An early try by midfielder Aneurin Owen (centre) next to the poles was converted by Sam Costelow (flyhalf) for a 7-0 lead.
Some good interplay by SA Schools saw winger Stravino Jacobs worked into space though and he scored in the corner to cut the lead to 7-5.
Wales again found space out wide and centre Joe Roberts rounded off a quality move. Costelow made it 14-5.
The SA Schools came back immediately though with hooker JJ Kotze crashing over to make it 14-10.
The SA Schools team takes the lead for the first time in the match after 22 minutes, with a try by midfielder Mnombo Zwelindaba following strong driving play by his pack.
Hard-working SA Schools captain, Muzi Manyike, was almost over minutes later, but lost the ball in trying to place it over the line before another set-back with Jacobs yellow-carded following some obstruction.
Wales then grabbed the lead again when they used their extra number on attack, with prop Luke Yendle barging over. Costelow’s conversion was good again, putting and Wales back in the lead 21-15.
South Africa went into halftime with the lead though after a good try by no 8, Celimpilo Gumede. Thomas Bursey nailed his first conversion of the match to edge South Africa ahead 22-21.
Manyike was again denied a try in stretching for the line early in the second half, with South Africa starting to find some momentum in their play. After some patience on attack and a number of crisp passes, flyhalf Juan Mostert darted over and with Bursey converting, the lead was extended to 29-21.
Wales comes back with a bang. Flanker Jac Morgan crashing over to close the lead to three points and then took the lead as Costelow charged down a kick from outside back Rynhardt Jonker to score close to the poles. He converted as well and suddenly Wales were in control.
The never say die attitude Erasmus eluded to kicked in.
Thomas Bursey scored for South Africa to give them the lead again, but when Morgan scored a second with a minute left, it seemed that the match was lost.
Not so for Jurich Claasens as the Garsfontein High School pupil, who replaced Bursey, first dummied and then dived for the line to score the winning try.
The SA Schools team will meet France in the second round at Stellenberg in Durbanville on Tuesday, 14 August, with Wales taking on England.
SA Schools 43 (22) – Tries: Stravino Jacobs, Jean-Jacques Kotze, Zweli Zwelendaba, Celimpilo Gumede, Thomas Bursey, Juan Mostert, Jurich Claasens. Conversions: Darren Hendricks (2), Thomas Bursey (2).
Wales 40 (21) – Tries: Aneurin Owen, Joe Roberts, Sam Costelow, Louis Yendle, Jac Morgan (2). Conversions: Costelow (4), Evan Lloyd.