By Chesley Daniels and Neville Botha
Captain and hooker, Imaan Pemba, led from the front and set an example for the EP U18 Craven Week Side as they thrashed their counterparts and neighbours, Border U18, in a Craven Week warm-up fixture at City Lords Ground, Kingswood in Makhanda on 24 June.
In the main curtain-raiser, the EP U18 Academy side came from behind and clinched the winning spot at the death, narrowly defeating Border U18 by 24-22.
As expected, the game started at a very high tempo as the visitors, Border, took the game to hosts, EP. The more physical and powerful forwards of EP came hard at their opponents on attack and also made good use of their effective driving mauls. Their game plan worked as planned on the running rugby, and gave the tight five and centres the ability to execute their plans. EP took a firm yet commanding 28-7 lead at the break.
Captain Imaan Pemba, Batho Hlekani, Abongile Golela, and Sean Vermaak gelled well during the game. Man of the Match, Batho Hlekani, a learner at Graeme College, was very impressive and constantly in the faces of Border on the attack. This allowed the EP team quality ball possession for their speedy and highly skillful backline players, and created spaces for the team’s backs to score most of the tries.
The added advantage the EP team has is that they weigh more than 630kg, compared to the 550kg weight of the Border pack. They are ready to compete in the national Craven Week on 3 July at Outeniqua Park in George, having finished off their preparations on 28 June. A four-day practice camp held in Gqeberha, under the watchful eye of Head Coach and former EP Craven Week player, Elric van Vuuren, from Despatch High, ended on 27 June.
“I feel things are in place and I am excited about the coming week. Our preparation mostly follows the same path as last year’s, but with our practice camp, we stayed at a place close to Grey High [in Gqeberha]and made use of the Grey practice facilities. We planned the camp for Addo like last year where we slept in tents, but due to the rainy and cold conditions we thought we would rather do it near Grey this time,” Van Vuuren explained.
Last year was Van Vuuren’s first as Craven Week coach, and he described it as “a huge learning process”.
“We made some mistakes in our preparation last year, but we learned from that. This year we are much better prepared. I feel we are on the right track,” said Van Vuuren.
EP used friendly matches against SWD Eagles and Border to try out various approaches. On 3 July, will be up against the very highly-rated Free State in their first match of the week.
“It is always nice to start the week with a match like this. You don’t need to motivate the players, because they are basically playing against the best rugby school in the world. And what better way to test yourself than against the best,” said Van Vuuren, in reference to Grey College in Bloemfontein, whose learners form the core of the Free State side.
He says the EP team will cope well. “Players like Batho Hlekani, Burrie van Heerden and Jamaine Dampies played at that higher level already, and one can see that. We have a solid pack of forwards with very good loose forwards, strong runners, a halfback combination that knows each other well, and then lots of speed at the back,” Van Vuuren added.
With rain a possibility, the fields in George can be soft and even muddy, but that doesn’t bother the coach. EP will also be represented at the U/18 Academy Week, starting on 3 July in Johannesburg.
Neville Botha is the Secretary of EP High Schools Rugby.