False Bay RFC staged a phenomenal comeback in the last quarter hour of their SLA match to run out 32-17 victors over Stellenbosch University at Constantia on Saturday. Going into the break, the Bay held a slender 3-0 lead.
The contest was always going to be the Bay’s litmus test, especially as the season progressed and they had maintained an unbeaten record in their previous 10 outings.
And what a test of character, commitment and ability it proved to be.
Maties, coming off an extended mid-season break, were also unbeaten but in a scheduling mystery had only played five matches before this one.
They were the next challenge the Constantia outfit had to overcome in their 2016 campaign, which includes participation in the national club rugby championships, the Gold Cup.
With the host’s second team showing the way in their victory over Maties, the scene was set for a piping hot contest on a bitterly cold day. As with any contest between two top teams, play in the opening period was pretty much a sparring contest, each team measuring the opponent.
The Maties pack in this period surprised their vaunted opponents with impressive contesting of the first three scrums, but the Bay settled down and gained ascendancy as the half progressed.
Their lineout proved to be effective with eighthman Janco Venter being their primary target as he roamed between four and the back of the line. By contrast the Bay’s line was at times erratic.
Indeed this seemed to be the pattern of play for the hosts for the better part of the first half as they contrived to make things difficult for themselves.
During the opening stanza they dominated possession and their forwards gained ascendancy but they lacked finishing and scoring opportunities went abegging.
Their slender lead at the break could so easily have been a double-figure advantage had they executed better.
Determined defence by Maties further thwarted the Bay’s attempts. One breathtaking move saw eighthman Ryan Olivier break off a lineout on the halfway, offload to centre Jason Pretorius, who sliced the defence and popped a pass to bullocking wing Danie Roux, who then ran hard but was tackled into touch a few metres from the line. These three were outstanding on the day and featured throughout the contest.
The second half started with an intensity greater than the first. The Bay were immediately on attack, driving the ball up through their forwards, moving it wide and back again.
Five metres from the maroon-clad outfit’s line and seemingly about to score, the Maties robbed the Bay of possession and wing Duncan Saal ran in for a 95-metre score. Flyhalf Chris Smith made it seven with the conversion.
Stellenbosch University, by virtue of location, normally have a small travelling support and the large, predominantly False Bay crowd was silenced.
Moments later they were in raptures as Olivier started a counter attack from his own half, the ball seeing the deft hands of fullback Adnaan Osman and wing Mustaqueem Jappie who each weaved some magic before prop Wesley Chetty crashed over in the corner. The Bay had wrested the lead again but relinquished it moments later through a Smith penalty.
Maties were a far more organised team in the second half. Having lost Venter, who was their standout player till then, they seemed to muster together and got down to playing their trademark, fast-paced rugby.
They became their usual, ominous force, one which could rip any team to shreds at the drop of a ball. Indeed this appeared to be the case when Bay flyhalf Andri Claasen had a clearance kick charged down and Maties centre Kyle Steyn scored. Smith converted.
Claasen throughout the contest hardly put a foot wrong on the day, and would write that one off to experience. It was the end of the first hour of play and the home support were chewing nails again. Their team was behind 17-8 and the Mighty Maties were rising.
What was to ensue was 15 minutes of passion, power play and sheer determination as the Bay blew their opponents away, scoring four unanswered tries to convert the eight-point deficit into a 15 point victory.
That against the very team renowned throughout the decades for doing the very same to their opponents time after time through their trademark style of playing until the final whistle.
First up was Captain Courageous, Graham Knoop, who stretched over the line at the end of a multi-phase move.
Claasen converted and the deficit was only two points. Olivier, an immense presence throughout, crashed over moments later to give his team the lead and a hope of the fourth try for a bonus point.
The elusive Jappie flat-footed the defence and banked that point with his try, and then for good measure Olivier completed a brace and the Bay completed an historic victory over their revered opponents.
Outstanding on the day for Maties were those already mentioned as well as scrumhalf Paul de Wet, who was sharp behind his pack and lock Ian Groenewald who was a physical presence in the loose, thriving on his duel with Knoop.
False Bay host Brackenfell on Saturday. The visitors, who returned to the SLA this season, are deservedly in the top five of the competition and will be another tough challenge for the Bay.
Kick off at Constantia is at 4pm with first matches starting at 1.30pm.
* Jon Harris is a member of False Bay RFC.