~~An overcast, chilly evening at Rhodes' Great Field was the venue for Rhodes University's penultimate FNB Varsity Shield clash with the fifth-placed Walter Sisulu University (WSU). The match, which took place on Monday 13 March, would only be Rhodes’ fifth in the Varsity Shield. The hosts were still looking for the first win of their debut season, having gone down in each of their previous four encounters, while WSU were in search of the third of their campaign.
The early exchanges were ridden with errors, with the tricky conditions making it difficult for either side to get a foot-hold in the game. It was eventually WSU who opened the scoring, with a powerful drive by second-rower Athenkosi Khetani leading to the game's first five-pointer. Flyhalf Sinegugu Lituka's successful conversion giving the visitors a 0-8 lead.
Rhodes struck back almost immediately however, after a sustained period of pressure eventually allowed outside centre Nic Butler to go over in the corner. Ryan Horne's missed conversion making it 5-8.
A powerful line-out drive by the Rhodes forwards allowed Uzu Nyanda to go over, with Horne's second missed conversion just before the first strategy break leaving the score at 10-8.
A series of professional fouls by Rhodes in their own 22 eventually led to no. 8, Devon Barnard, receiving the game's first yellow card. Solid line-out defence by the Rhodents in the red-zone forced WSU to knock-on however, and gave them the opportunity to clear, taking play to the halfway line.
Ntando Mfengu's mazy runs from the left wing kept the Rhodes defence on their toes throughout the remainder of the first half, before a slip-up in defence allowed towering lock Mihlali Mosi to gallop in his side's second score from the 22. Lituka's successful conversion being the last telling moment of the half, as it ended at 10-16 to the visitors.
Keegan Deponselle opened the second-half's proceedings with a try in the corner, after a scrum inside WSU's 22 led to great interplay from the backs. Horne's luck with the boot didn't change, as his conversion bounced off the uprights to leave the score at 15-16.
Deponselle's score seemed to rally Rhodes on, as some more mesmerizing attacking play from the backs as well as some brutal carries from their tight-forwards, put WSU under immense pressure, culminating in centre Ludwe Jack seeing yellow after a series repeated infringements. WSU survived the ensuing waves of attack, to eventually clear for touch around the 50m mark.
Rhodes were made to rue their missed opportunities a few minutes later, as Mfengu's hard work was eventually rewarded when he scored a try in the left-hand corner, after some expansive play by WSU. A missed conversion by Lituka left the score at 15-21.
Another lapse in the Rhodes midfield allowed WSU's Siphosihle Magawu to saunter under the poles untouched, with the conversion making it 15-29 just before the second strategy break.
Athenkosi Khetani completed his brace after a period of sustained WSU dominance, followed by Lituka's third conversion of the evening making it 15-37. Rhodes battled to match the pace and intensity of their opponents towards the back-end of the game, with the majority of the final ten minutes being spent inside their 22.
Mfengu's second try, followed by another Lituka conversion in stoppage time made the final score 15-45. Rhodes' fifth loss of the season all but condemning them to the wooden spoon, while WSU's big win puts them in a good position to finish in the top half come season's end.
Rhodes next travel to KwaZulu Natal to take on the Impi, while WSU conclude their campaign at home to the University of the Western Cape.
Tries: Nic Butler, Uzu Nyanda, Keegan Deponselle
Yellow Cards: Devon Barnard
Tries: Athenkosi Khetani (2), Mihlali Mosi, Ntando Mfengu (2), Siphosihle Magawu
Conversions: Sinegugu Lituka (5)
Yellow Cards: Ludwe Jack