By Ovayo Milisa Novukela
On Thursday, 31 August, the Rhodes University Stallions faced IIE Varsity College in an all-important Varsity Shield Promotion or Relegation match at the Rhodes University Great Field.
Rhodes University went into the match with convincing wins against the University of KwaZulu Natal and Nelson Mandela University, respectively, and were in sensational form. In contrast, IIE Varsity College won the University Sports South Africa C-Section Group convincingly at Durban this past July to earn them the position to play against Rhodes University Stallions.
The Stallions started the match in a fast-paced and precise attack, applying the pressure to the Varsity College pack, with Rhodes playing with the wind. Their aerial kicking was beautiful, courtesy of Jano Le Roux. Le Roux’s kicking and running ability caused many problems for the men from Durban, and they had to adjust to the environment they were playing in and the Stallion’s playing style.
The crowd also came in their numbers as both students and the community of Makhanda, with several rugby clubs, such as the Brumbies, supporting the Stallions.
During the match, the Stallions applied more pressure and were more clinical, resulting in a try. The wind became more robust, and the weather began to change instantly, making the Stallions hold the ball more for possession, making captain Simelela Mbanzi a dangerous player as he frequently broke the defensive line of the Varsity College. This resulted in a penalty for the Stallions, which Jano Le Roux converted. Half time score was 10-0
Varsity College returned with a vengeance in the second half as they scored an early try. The try gave the Varsity College team hope and determination as they put more pressure on the Stallions. Still, the Stallions’ forwards were at work as they kept making the tackles and making life difficult for the men from Durban.
Stallions Prop Sino Ralo proved his experience and leadership skills in the field as he kept the boys in the game with fantastic carries, steals and game management. The backline then lost Jano Le Roux to a knee injury, contributing to the game’s turning point.
During the match, there was a controversial moment where a try was disallowed after a series of consultations by the referees, which caused a lot of anger and frustration from the crowd.
The Stallions kept defending until the last five minutes of the match, where the Varsity College men used their fresh and powerful pack to move the ball forward and eventually score a try with a conversion. The Stallions did everything in their power to come back. Still, it was too late as the final score was 10-12 to Varsity College, which meant that Varsity College had been promoted to Varsity Shield, and Rhodes University had been knocked out of Varsity Shield.