Hungry Stellies Feast On Vulnerable Wynberg

Happy to be of service!  Stellenberg scrumhalf Jacques van Biljon sends his backline away during
his team’s recent 33-21 home win over Rondebosch.  (Photo: Robert Gad)

Stellenberg recorded an emphatic 47-5 home win over Premier A opponents Wynberg in icy, rainy conditions on Saturday 10 June 2017.

What was expected to be at least a fairly closely-fought encounter proved to be a one-sided romp for the hosts, who ran in seven tries to establish an insurmountable 47-0 lead in the first 51 minutes? 

As if those statistics aren’t impressive enough, one needs to note that the Jade Brigade was actually playing into the teeth of a stiff north-westerly wind and sporadic drizzle in the first half, by the end of which they were already 33-0 up.

However, in Wynberg’s defence, it must be mentioned that their young team took the field with a backline that had to be rejigged due to injury both prior to and during the game. 

For example, as if having scrumhalf and captain Matt Doyle sidelined with an ankle injury wasn’t bad enough, his stand-in Dylan Munro did not make it past half-time. Full-back Kyle Lamb, who was only playing because intended flyhalf David Botha had had to withdraw, was then pressed into service in this crucial berth. 

By contrast, apart from relative newcomer Eugene Bosman at inside centre, Stellenberg fielded a combination that has remained virtually unchanged since the start of the campaign.

The visitors started impressively, lock Liam Lotz seizing the kick-off and leading a forward charge up to the Stellies’ 22-metre line before the touchline came to the assistance of the local defence.  The hosts’ energetic flank Johann van der Merwe recovered fifteen metres, but nuggety Berg hooker Jason Alexander and tighthead Nicholas Witte maintained the territorial advantage.

When the visiting backs were deemed offside, a huge clearance by Stellies outside centre Leeuwner van der Merwe finally took play into the Wynberg half. 

Lock Janko Swanepoel secured clean possession from the line-out and the ball was quickly switched to the right where Leeuwner van der Merwe sliced through the defence before offloading to flyhalf Corné van Romburgh, who had a clear run-in under the posts.  Full-back Ryan Brown raised the flags.  (Stellenberg 7 Wynberg 0 – 6 minutes)

The hosts made several uncharacteristic handling errors and failed to make full use of a penalty when they infringed at the resultant line-out.  Even then, the Jade Brigade defence once again proved more than up to the task of holding their opponents at bay and earned a turnover scrum.  Van Romburgh was guilty of a poor pass but immediately redeemed himself by making good ground down the midfield channel.

A forward pass enabled Munro to take play back into the hosts’ half with a neat grubber, but, when his side lost possession to workhorse Johann van der Merwe, the flank fed van Romburgh, whose fine reading of the situation resulted in left-wing Roché Malan dotting down midway out on the right for Brown to convert. (Stellenberg 14 Wynberg 0 – 14 minutes) 

Berg right wing Chase Hermanus threatened from the restart, but his pack was penalised for not releasing the ball.  The visitors weren’t showing any immediate signs of flagging as no.8 Cameron Bowes led a spirited drive down the touchline, which ended in a penalty to the southern suburbs team, which, to their frustration, ended up being punted aimlessly over the dead-ball line.

The Stellies eight seemed to take this as a signal to up their already-impressive work-rate and quick, clean possession enabled van Romburgh to gain good ground with a carefully-weighted kick.  A powerful eight-man shove drove Wynberg back, but referee Nathan Berry ruled a reset.

Penetrative driving by Jade Brigade no.8 Heino Lombard saw Johann van der Merwe held up just metres from the try line.  Awarded a penalty, the home team swung the ball first left, then right, giving Lombard the narrowest of gaps to score his side’s third try. Brown added to Berg’s agony. (Stellenberg 21 Wynberg 0 – 24 minutes)

Beautiful backline play saw the hosts strike again within barely two minutes, Leeuwner van der Merwe sliding over for try number three.  Brown maintained his 100% record. (Stellenberg 28 Wynberg 0 – 27 minutes)

Growing self-confidence encouraged Stellies to run out of defence, but a knock-on disrupted their momentum.  The visitors used the scrum as an opportunity to surge forward, only for a dropped pass to be collected by Stellies try-machine, right wing Angelo Davids, who sprinted fifty metres to dive over in the corner.  (Stellenberg 33 Wynberg 0 – 31 minutes)

Berg were in a measure of disarray, driving in pods, but with no real continuity.  They did take play inside the Stellenberg 22 – from which point Bowes and Alexander came dangerously close to scoring – but a knock-on with the tryline at their mercy brought the first half to a frustrating close for Justin van Winkel’s men.  Half-time: Stellenberg 33 Wynberg 0. 

The opening minute of the second half reflected Wynberg’s growing frustration. 

Having knocked on their own kick-off, they were forced to watch as van Romburgh and Leeuwner van der Merwe exploited the space to the right to put the lanky Brown clear on the inside of Berg’s replacement wing to pile on the pressure with his side’s sixth try, which Leeuwner van der Merwe goaled.  (Stellenberg 40 Wynberg 0 – 36 minutes)

Berg’s advantage of having the wind at their backs was being more than nullified by their hosts’ relentless tackling, but they did manage to make some headway, a penalty enabling them to set up a five-metre line-out.  Regrettably, Bowes’ clean take was to count for nothing, as the visitors were penalized for not releasing the ball, allowing Leeuwner van der Merwe to force them back twenty metres.

Although the Wynberg side was already showing many changes as injuries were forcing them to resort to their bench, they still managed to drive play back towards the half-way line, then the Stellenberg 22, courtesy of a neat van Wyk touch finder.

Van Romburgh relieved the threat with a raking punt and a precise box kick by scrumhalf Jacques van Biljon deserved a better finish than a knock-on. 

Brown pushed the visitors back on defence before another moment of magic helped his side score their seventh and final try. 

Van Romburgh took a quick tap penalty on the Berg 22 and slipped the ball to loosehead Nicholas Winterbach, who stormed over without a hand being laid on him.  Brown completed the Stellies’ scoring.  (Stellenberg 47 Wynberg 0 – 51 minutes)

The home backs were in a rampant mood, first van Biljon and then Davids threatening the Wynberg defences, then, when a timely van Wyk penalty briefly relieved the mounting pressure, Swanepoel’s merciless tackling wrought such havoc amongst the lads in the hooped jerseys that they were too rattled to do anything with their hard-earned possession.

More incisive running by Leeuwner van der Merwe was then spoiled by poor handling, a factor not helped by the arrival on the field of several of the home reserves.

Bowes and burly flank Inga Halu foraged well together, earning Berg a penalty 37 metres out and providing a much-needed boost that not even a yellow card could negate.  Finally, it fell to inside centre Christian Colborne, by far the most impressive Wynberg back on the day, to scramble his way over in the left-hand corner.  (Stellenberg 47 Wynberg 5 – 68 minutes)

Fierce driving by Berg lock Mika Schubert proved to be too little too late and an unforced handling error cost his side chance to add to their total. Final score : Stellenberg 47 Wynberg 5.

Without trying to be too harsh on Wynberg, an element of “we’ve been in this position before” did appear to creep in later on and, with it, some petulance amongst their frustrated forwards.  This team has youth on its side, but not a great deal else right now.  It is unreasonable to expect  experienced stalwarts such as Bowes and Colborne to plug the hole in the dam wall forever.

Stellenberg looked the finished article, van Romburgh’s lovely reading of the game contributing enormously to his side going forward.  In Man of the Match Leeuwner van der Merwe, he found a very capable ally, as the above article no doubt illustrates. 

Johann van der Merwe and Janko Swanepoel may hog the headlines up front, but the pack is a formidable unit.  And, of course, Winterbach’s try will soon become part of local legend. 

To top it all, the outstanding link provided by van Biljon at scrumhalf merely highlighted their opponents’ shortcomings in this position.

Not all was fun and games for the host school, who went out of their way to welcome 15 year-old learner Michael Mowers, who is suffering from a life-threatening disease, to the game, issuing yellow ribbons to all the adults to be worn in solidarity with the brave youngster. 

I was privileged to find myself sitting alongside Michael for most of the first half.  I’m sure I speak for all who attended the game in wishing him well in the time ahead.

His positive personality was a stark reminder that rugby, indeed all sport, is only a very small part of the challenges one faces in life.

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