The Sharks under 19 squad held their annual prize-giving dinner on Wednesday night, with a few awards given out to their best performers.
While the team failed at the penultimate hurdle this year, in losing an away semi-final against the Bulls, they nevertheless showed remarkable growth throughout the season and developed a lot of character along the way; let’s not forget that a woeful first round of matches saw them record only two wins in six starts, before a change in their fortunes saw them win five from six of the return fixtures, with a single-point reversal against the Lions in Johannesburg the only blot on their copybook during that great run. In the run-up to qualifying for the semi, via a third-place log finish, they beat both of the teams that will contest the final tomorrow, Western Province at home and the Blue Bulls away.
Impressive flanker Andrew van Tonder, from EG Jansen on the East Rand, was named as forward of the year after consistently standing out in a pack that battled hard all year against teams with far more pedigree, as well as significantly more bulk. An unheralded player coming into the season, van Tonder punched above his weight all campaign long and really caught the eye in a competition dominated by players whose schoolboy credentials were far more impressive.
Back of the year went to KZN’s own Tyler Fisher, with the Westville boy finding a way to get onto the score sheet in just about every game he played. His season record of 13 tries in just 12 games is one that will probably stand for a while and barring amazing feats in tomorrow’s final, he should remain at the top of the competition table.
Two other backs were lauded for their contributions – and fittingly so, because these two players, like van Tonder, regularly stood out despite not being “names on paper” coming into the season. Left wing Alcino Izaacs won the prize for most improved player, while right wing Kotaro Matsushima was named as the season MVP. Neither award could have gone to a more deserving recipient, since it was frequently a moment of magic by one of the pace men out wide that turned games in the Sharks’ favour.
We’d like to also give captain Rob du Preez a special mention for the way he led the side to so many victories against the odds, as well as emerging as the competition’s top points scorer. Du Preez scored a fair few tries himself, but it was the way in which he stepped up with the boot, despite initially not being thought of as much of a goal-kicker at all, that was probably most impressive about his contribution.
Congratulations to all the winners; here’s to plenty of success with the Sharks under 21 side next year.Tweet