20 August 2016 – The Saint Andrew’s 1st XV booked a place in the final of the Kovsie League’s Irawa Cup with a convincing 29-10 victory over Hennenman in Bloemfontein on Saturday. In a match of two halves, Saints set up their win with a dominant first half display, which netted them a 22-0 advantage at the break.
Prop Melgardt Minnaar puts in a typically powerful run against Henneman
The victory secured one more match for the team, which is made up predominantly of matric boys. It also gives them a chance to emulate the side of 2010, which went all the way and followed up an unbeaten run in the Free State B-League with the Kovsie League honours.
They will, however, be hard-pressed to claim the 2016 Kovsie League title after Kalahari, from Kuruman, pounded Bothaville 41-3 in the other semi-final. To put that result in perspective, in three outings this season Bothaville scored four very narrow wins over Hennenman.
In the final of the B-League, a week ago at Shimla Park, Saints had been forced onto the back foot by a very motivated Reddersburg team and had to fight their way back from a 0-17 deficit, going on to a 36-24 win. Saturday’s game, though, followed a different narrative.
Saints controlled the contest from the outset and took the lead only five minutes into the clash. From a penalty just inside the Hennenman 22, scrumhalf Jacques de Bruin, who has been on a try-scoring tear of note, took a quick tap and sprinted left. Two tacklers tried to bring the powerful number nine down, but he fended off both efforts to force his way over in the left hand corner.
Michael Maree was wide to the right of the posts with his conversion attempt, but it was to prove the lone blemish on his record as he excelled in slotting a number of testing kicks in the match.
The flyhalf helped Saints extend their lead to 8-0 when he knocked over a penalty from the Hennenman 10-metre line after Saints had forced a Henneman defender to hold onto the ball on the ground in the face of strong defence.
The visitors, who finished as runners-up in the Griffons’ League, next had two opportunities to get onto the scoreboard from penalty kicks, but both attempts on goal were well wide of the mark.
Saints then made them pay when the boys in blue went over for their second five-pointer. Flanker Kholedi Sekhibane was the catalyst, launching a strong counter-attack down Saints’ right hand touchline before drawing a defender and setting wing Liam Bouwer free to score in the corner. Maree was spot on with his conversion kick, lifting the home side into a comfortable 15-0 lead.
Saints’ next score came on the opposite flank when winger Sipho Malewa sliced through the Hennenman defence at pace, beating four defenders before being brought to the ground. The ball was quickly recycled and prop Melgardt Minnaar was on hand to power his way over the line for a third try for Christoffel de Lange’s team. Maree once more added the extras from out wide to put Saint Andrew’s into a big 22-point lead at the break.
Second half slump
Hennenman were the first to strike after the restart when outside centre Fanie Pretorius found space out wide on the left to sprint through and score out wide for the visitors’ first points of the contest. Once more, though, they failed to add any points with the boot.
Responding well, Saint Andrew’s forced their way into Henneman territory, but were stopped just short of the tryline. Shortly afterwards, though, they made a five-metre scrum count when De Bruin picked up and charged around the blind side before crashing over for his second try in the despairing tackle of a defender. Maree’s successful conversion made it Saints 29, Hennenman five.
Maybe the home team lost focus, or maybe the demands of an exceptionally long season then took their toll, but Saint Andrew’s began to make a few errors and Hennenman enjoyed a good spell, playing a lot of rugby in Saints’ half. They were finally rewarded when they took a free kick quickly and moved it swiftly down the backline to work an overlap on the right, which put Stephan Denso in for the final points of the contest.
Fullback Ryan Smith was the standout performer on the day for the home side, with his intelligent running lines creating plenty of opportunities for his team-mates, while captain Christoffel de Lange led by example, putting in some telling surges up front. Kholedi Sekhibane was a live-wire in the loose and Michael Walsh enjoyed a solid all-round showing in the midfield.
While the match ended 29-10 in Saints’ favour, the result didn’t entirely satisfy coach Ruben Heymans, who called on his players to lift themselves for one last 70-minute effort when they take on Kalahari in the final. Judging from the Kuruman school’s result against Bothaville, that is what it is going to require for Saint Andrew’s to come away with a win and the Kovsie League title.