THE Old Mutual Zimbabwe Under-18 rugby team made a winning start at the Under-18 Coca-Cola Academy Week with a close fought victory over South African Learners with Special Educational Needs at Paarl Boys High School yesterday.
The Junior Sables should have won by a bigger margin as they dominated play, but they had to settle for a two-point victory. Zimbabwe scored five tries and two conversions, while their opponents crossed the whitewash four times and had two conversions and one converted penalty.
SA LSEN were the first to get points on the board through flyhalf Chezlin Oosthuzien’s converted penalty. They further stretched their lead with a try by flank Theuns Botha, which was converted by Oosthuzien.
Hooker Declan Ralphs touched down for Zimbabwe’s first try, but Tinashe Hombiro missed the conversion.
However, Zimbabwe took the lead for the first time in the match through skipper Matthew Owuru with his side’s second try, which was converted by Hombiro to leave the scores at 12-10.
LSEN responded with a brilliant try by prop Jared Kleynahns, with Oosthuzien missing the conversion.
Wing Mufaro Chareka gave Zimbabwe their third try of the match and again Hombiro missed the conversion. The Junior Sables went to the break leading 17-15.
Flank David Bore went over the line for Zimbabwe’s fourth try of the match, which Hombiro successfully converted.
A brilliant run by fullback Rivano Do Amaral saw him offload lock Kevin Ngwenya for LSEN’s third five-pointer of the contest and Oosthuzien booted over the conversion. LSEN took the lead again with a fourth try through their scrumhalf, but Oosthuzien missed the conversion.
Zimbabwe were in danger of losing the match, as LSEN led 27-24 with a few minutes left. The Junior Sables managed to pip their opponents when prop Brendon Sibanda powered his way over the line for their fifth try. Hombiro missed the conversion, but it counted for nothing as they held on for victory.
Scott Gray, the Zimbabwe coach, was delighted with the win, but also felt they could have won by a wider margin.
“Obviously it’s a good start for us to get the win on the board. The boys fought very hard for the win and after the game when did a review, a lot of the players said they didn’t play their best. We missed a lot of opportunities to put the game away and win by a more comfortable margin, but we can’t take away the fact that we had a winning start to the festival,” Gray said.
Zimbabwe, who had a team at the Craven Week and Academy Week last year, are only fielding a side in the latter tournament this year.
Gray feels the Academy Week is where they belong, as they cannot cope with the physicality at the Craven Week. The only way for Zimbabwe to make a return to the Craven Week, according to Gray, is that they post convincing victories at the Academy Week for a number of years.
“This is the right level for us. To play in the Academy Week is the right level for the Zimbabwe Under-18 team because of the physical level we play at. It’s not the same level that these other teams play. For us to go to Craven Week is a bit of a mismatch physical wise; the players there are a bit bigger, a lot more stronger, more physical, more determined and more driven so I actually feel that the Academy Week is more suited to Zimbabwe,” he said.
The Junior Sables are next in action tomorrow against opponents that will only be known at the end of today. – Chronicle