In a hugely exciting Absa Under 19 Final, the Sharks Under 19s beat Western Province 31-18 to take the title and get the day off to the best possible start.
Michael Marnewick writes for Sharksrugby.co.za that it was a game where they had to fight for everything, but fight they did to emerge worthy winners when they started to exert their dominance in every facet of the game. Points scored on either side of the break proved to be the massive psychological blow that would strike at the very heart of the visitors – and break their spirits.
There was a nervous start for the home side when Western Province snatched an intercept try when the Sharks were on attack deep in opposition territory, much against the run of play, and although they scored a penalty to take their score to 10 first half points, the Sharks struck back with a wonderful try to fullback Faizel de Bruin who received the ball in his own half and ghosted through the defence to score an important try.
The junior Sharks went into a narrow four point lead at the break when captain Ross Cronje kicked a sweetly-timed drop-goal with time up on the clock to extend the lead marginally, but an important psychological blow had been struck with the Sharks 14-10 to the good.
Cronje kicked a 40m penalty moments into the second half to push the lead to seven points as Province were made to pay for their indiscipline and again their discipline let them down as Cronje had another chance to add points, the upright denying him. However, the Sharks managed to regain possession and after an initial drive to set up the momentum, flank Cameron Dunlop powered his way over. The TMO was called to adjudicate and after a few looks, awarded the try.
Cronje added the two points and the lead was now a handy 14 points with 25 minutes of the game remaining, but not sewn up. Both sides would press hard to gain some form of advantage but for Province, it was not proving to be easy against a committed home side effort.
A penalty to Province reduced the gap to 11 points but again capitalising on Province’s lack of discipline, the Sharks continued to hold the upper hand. Then, forced to defend their line against a strong Province drive, replacement hooker Kyle Cooper managed to steal the ball on the ground and came away with it to break the pressure. But more importantly, it set up what would be the final nail in the coffin as the game was well and truly wrapped up when Province lost the ball on attack shortly thereafter and centre Arno van Zyl raced away to score under the posts.
Cronje converted and at 31-13 up, there was only going to be one winner with five minutes left on the clock. A last gasp consolation try was scored by Province but it was always going to be too little too late after the Sharks had emphatically proved that they were worthy champions.
Image Credits to Michael MarnewickTweet