By CHESLEY DANIELS
SEDRU Regional League Log Leaders St Mark’s Alicedale and hosts Ndlambe Tigers ended their clash in a titanic 12-12 draw in Nemato, Port Alfred, on Saturday. The visitors took a narrow 7-5 lead at halftime.
Tigers were indeed a much-improved team from the last outing when St Mark’s ran out comfortable 39-10 winners in Alicedale on 21 May.
The draw saw St Mark’s finishing their allotted 16 games in the competition, and as it stands, they are top of the overall log standings with 61 points. According to the unofficial log, Rhodes are in second position with 59 points with two games remaining. Tigers, however, moved up to sixth position with two games remaining (against Rhodes & OC).
The clash, as expected, was physical, hard and brutal where the big powerful forwards of both teams confronted each other but was also played in a great spirit. Both teams possess big powerful forwards whose strengths are up front, and Saturday was no different. It was anticipated that the St Mark’s Bulls would run rampant with their dominant forwards up front, but the host Tigers surprised them on the day. The visitors struggled to find each other while both teams made unnecessary mistakes in the first half.
The visitor’s young winger Caron Botha opened the scoring in the 15th minute while fly half Ettienne Blou converted to take an early 7-0. While St Mark’s dominated in the scrums, it was always going to be a power struggle up front as both teams’ forwards came hard at each other.
Bulls’ trademark lineout driving mauls was once again one of their most significant factors on the day. Tigers captain Roger Faku was at it again with his storming attacking powerful runs, giving his side momentum. Tigers replied late in the 35th minute of the first half with a try by Sihle Nelson as the conversion was missed, which brought the scores to 7-5 at the changeover in favour of St Mark’s.
The second half was even more brutal, and both teams’ defensive efforts were outstanding. Scoring was not easy for both sides as they made it difficult for each other. The visitors scored first again after the break with a fine try by former EP U/19 player Cole Kirkwood (13) to extend his side’s lead 12-5.
Tigers stuck to their game plan, neatly kept the ball behind their opponents and attacked from there. Tigers enjoyed a much-needed territorial advantage, which provided dividends when Buthu Futhuse (12) levelled the score with a well-worked try in the 35th minute.
With less than five minutes remaining, the scores were level at 12-12, and both sides were in search of the winner. Both teams needed to be complimented for their colossal efforts in the game’s final moments and had the crowd on their feet. The final siren went off, and the scores remained 12-12 as the teams shared the spoils after a hard-fought and humdinger battle.
ST MARK’S POINTS:
TRIES: Caron Botha and Cole Kirkwood
CONVERSION: Ettienne Blou
TRIES: Sihle Nelson and Buthu Futhuse
CONVERSION: Zweni Khanya
The hosts’ head coach, Abe Hendriks, was thrilled with his side’s overall performance. “I am very proud of the boys today and playing to a draw to the log leaders St Mark’s. We surprised them as they didn’t expect the outcome and what we offered on the field. Players that stood out were Ace Sineli, Buthu Futhuse and the evergreen captain Roger Faku who again led from the front. We struggled in the lineouts and scrums and definitely areas we need to work hard on for this coming weekend’s fixtures against Rhodes. Congrats to St Mark’s, “Hendriks said.
St Mark’s captain Kepler Louw congratulated Tigers on pushing them hard, resulting in a draw. “The game was played in a good spirit as the game was also very tough and physical as expected. We struggled to find each other and build momentum as we made many unnecessary mistakes. We also struggled to find our rhythm in the first half but played better in the second half. We were stronger in the scrums and our line out mauls, but we need to be much better if we make the playoffs.”
The Grocott’s Mail Sport/Daniels MEDIA Man of the Match went to Cole Kirkwood, who was outstanding for St Mark’s in the backline. He was deceptive with ball in hand on attack, and his defensive efforts were also solid. Kirkwood also scored a try, and his general play was very good.