By CHESLEY DANIELS
Sundays River Valley Champs Paterson Lions came from 0-8 behind to beat St Marks Alicedale (this year’s SEDRU Champs) in their EPRU Regional Quarter Final clash played in Alicedale on Saturday.
The eight champs of their respective regional leagues participated in the playoffs. The two finalists will then play promotion/relegation against the two bottom-of-the-log finishers in the Grand Challenge.
The much-anticipated playoff match took place in cold and wet weather conditions but was indeed a hot affair inside the four corners. The two arch-rivals entertained the large crowd as the game was contested in an excellent spirit. As usual, St Marks’ bigger forwards dominated up front with their trademark line out mauls, scrums and rucks in the first half. The Lions forwards defended brilliantly in the wet conditions. The home side took the game to Lions and scored a try in the form of Markus Goliath and a penalty by Ettienne Blou to hand them an 8-0 lead.
The second half saw a hungrier and fitter Lions side who played the ball wide to their skilful backs, putting the home side under severe pressure. The wet conditions made matters difficult for both sides, and mistakes were made in the process. Lions prop Dwayne Marshall opened the scoring for his side to narrow matters at 8-5. The crowd were on their feet, singing and cheering their boys on.
The physical contest continued as both sides came hard at each other. Scoring was challenging due to the wet surface, and many set scrums took place. The Lions kept on fighting in the last ten minutes of the second half and continued to attack in search of the winning try. St Marks had a few scoring opportunities but lost the ball in crucial situations. A more determined Lions side showed a never-say-die attitude and were rewarded with a try by Thembelani Koti (flank) after a brilliant period of play. Ivandre Quantoi converted as Lions took the lead for the first time in the match with a 12-8 lead with less than ten minutes remaining.
The Bulls had ball possession and tried very hard to score the winner. There were also kickable penalties, but they preferred to go for the line to try and score from the line out. But, the Lions’ defences stood firm. The visitors’ colossal defences held firm as the Bulls’ attack closed in on their try line. In the end, the Lions’ calmness and fitness held out and ensured a well-deserved 12-8 win, stunning the Bulls on their home ground and booking themselves a semi-final place.
Captain John Gouza agreed that both sides played the game in a good spirit. “St Marks was bigger upfront and dominated the scrums, rucks and mauls in the first half. We did extremely well in running the ball out wide away from their big forwards. Our forwards ran beautifully with ball in hand and defended brilliantly against St Marks’ domination upfront. Dwayne, Andre and Kelly made their presence felt throughout the match, but Azariah Gouza was a constant torn in their flesh from behind the scrums. Our backs! Hats off to them; they played brilliantly in the conditions of the day. Our subs came on in the second half and continued what we have done the whole season, winning when our backs are against the wall.”
“We need to work more on structures, and at times we struggle to defend the mauls but overall, with the wet conditions, not much that we can fault the guys. It is now Back to the drawing board as we need to work on our set pieces, kicking game and defences at the mauls in the upcoming semi-finals,” he said.
The Grocott’s Mail/Daniels MEDIA Man of the Match went to Lions’ hardworking 8th man Azariah Gouza. He was just outstanding at the back of the scrums and all over the park. Gouza was solid on defence and impressive with ball in hand. He was also a handful at the breakdowns and involved in a try.