By CHESLEY DANIELS
Lily White ended the EPRU Grand Challenge competition with a hard-fought 28-22 win over a defiant KWARU side in their final Group C fixture encounter at the Albany Sports Ground on Saturday afternoon. The visitors KWARU were in a commanding 17-9 lead going into the halfway stage.
This second-round win for Lily White over KWARU was the second win for the Makhanda side over their counterparts from Gqeberha. Blues also registered their first win over KWARU in their own backyard in PE in the first round.
This vital win surely means a lot for the Blues as they finished in seventh position, above KWARU, in Group C and can breathe a little easier for now away from the relegation zone. The team in the eighth position will play a promotion/relegation game against the finalists of the Regional League on 10 September 2022.
On Saturday, both teams were well aware of the importance of this final fixture match and all to play for. KWARU came down with only one team and forfeited their other games, and loaded their 1st XV squad for Lily White. As expected, the clash started at a very high velocity as both teams were eager to walk away as winners.
It was vicious and physical from the kick-off with bodies colliding. The home side was first to put points on the board, with Athule Rooi (9) successfully slotting a 19th-minute penalty. KWARU took the game to the hosts with their bigger forwards, putting the home side under pressure while keeping the ball alive through their skilful backs with good ball handling.
The visitors were rewarded for their consistent pressure and scored a try in the form of Mfundo Ntyanya (7) to take a 5-3 lead. Lily White marched on, and another penalty by Rooi saw them regaining the lead 6-5 in the 30th minute of the first half.
KWARU kept attacking through phases and consistently created overlaps on the outside, which saw them score two late first-half tries due to missed tackles on the outside. KWARU brought the score to 17-9 at halftime and went into the changing room full of confidence.
Blues came out firing in the second half playing and defending with more intent. Blues scrumming became a factor, and they started dominating upfront. The home side captain Sinthembeni Njokweni led from the front with his strong and powerful ball carriers and gained momentum every time he touched the ball. In the fifth minute of the second half, the Blues scored their first try of the match when Masixole Madwara dived over and converted himself to narrow matters to 16-17.
KWARU started to lose focus and conceded numerous penalties. Blues captain Njokweni was rewarded for his brilliance and bulldozed his way over the try line in the 22nd minute. Rooi converted to put his side in the lead again for the first time in the second half, 23-17.
KWARU immediately struck back minutes later to score their bonus point try to reduce the deficit to one point at 22-23. The game got intense, and the crowd started cheering their boys on. Brilliant attacking rugby from both teams was the order of the day, and a close titanic finish was on the cards. The visitors came out guns blazing in the last 15 minutes of the second half.
The home side kept their composure on defence, and a blunder by the KWARU winger in the in-goal saw replacement centre Donald Ntsoro diving on the ball to score in the 35th minute. Lily White led 28-22 with five minutes remaining in the game. KWARU never gave up and launched waves of attack at Blues in search of the winner.
Blues were on the attack in possession of the ball and waiting for the siren and final whistle to go off to kick the ball out, but a crucial turnover by KWARU gave possession away. Deep in extra time in the 84th minute of the game, KWARU were within five metres of the Blues try line, attacking for dear life, keeping the ball alive and in hand. The KWARU captain gathered the ball metres away from the try line and needed to score the winner, but was magnificently tackled and held up on the try line as he thought he had scored the winner.
The captain should have just placed the ball back for the next player from his side to pick up and dive over to score. Nevertheless, he failed as Blues made a momentous try-saving tackle to prevent the visitors from scoring the winner.
What a match it was that saw Lily White Blues grasp a deserving but hard-fought 28-22 win. A collective defensive effort by the Blues was needed in the game’s dying moments to ensure victory.
LILY WHITE POINTS:
TRIES: Njokweni, Madwara, Ntsoro
CONVERSIONS: Rooi, Mtwalo
PENALTIES: Rooi (x3)
POINTS FOR KWARU:
TRIES: Ntathwambo, Sinethemba Mkana, Thembelani Bolitye, Lubabalo Ngqezana
CONVERSIONS: Nkana (x2)
Lily White recorded two wins in their first Grand Challenge competition as newcomers and lost a few close games they should have won.
The Grocott’s Mail/Daniels MEDIA Man of the Match was the captain courageous Sinthembele Njokweni for his brilliant all-around performance. The mighty Blues 8th man was a real threat and headache for his opponents with the ball in hand, and it cost a couple of defenders to stop him every time he touched the ball. He also scored a fine try, and his colossal defence was just brilliant.