The Cell C Sharks Under 19s were crowned SA Rugby Under 19 championship winners following a pulsating 40-27 win over worthy opponents, the Blue Bulls, at Newlands on Saturday.
It was a game in which the Blue Bulls shaded the Cell C Sharks Under 19s in a number of respects, but when it came to the crunch, could not match a side that has performed all season.
Head coach Sean Everitt has blended this young side into something special. 14 wins and not a defeat all season – home or away – means this finale is a fitting reward for a side that went unbeaten in a tough competition.
The Bulls took an early 10-3 lead having dominated territory in the opening minutes of the game and they continued to enjoy possession and territory, although the Cell C Sharks managed to whittle that down as the game progressed.
Henry Chamberlain showed great acceleration to bust through space after a second successive scrum turnover after the Bulls couldn’t retrieve their put in after being shunted off the ball and the fly half just had too much gas for our opening try. Sanele Nohamba converted to level matters as the game hit the quarter hour mark.
But the Bulls managed a second try with some good running lines hit at pace and there was no stopping the ball carrier as they took the lead again.
Lock partners Lappies Labuschagne and JJ van der Mescht combined beautifully following an intercept under pressure defending our own 22 for the score-levelling converted try to the former.
The scrumhalf took us into the lead for the first time in the game with a 40m penalty but the Bulls had the final say in the half with a penalty that once again levelled matters with the teams going into the halftime break with the scoreboard reading 20 points apiece.
Despite hardly having a sniff of ball possession or territory, the Cell C Sharks Under 19s had showed just how dangerous they can be when they do have opportunities, and the heart, determination and courage they showed was the difference.
The Cell C Sharks Under 19s opened the scoring in the second half with a well-taken drop-goal after some good work from the forwards to set up a strong rolling maul and from that point onwards, the Durban side were on top.
James Scott showed immense strength as he followed a great build-up before driving 15m with players trying to bring him down but he managed to power towards the line then over for our third try. Nohamba maintained his 100% kicking record and with it, a valuable 10 point cushion.
Impressive flank Wian Fourie scored the fourth try and with the successful conversion, we had a 17 point lead with just over 10 minutes of the game remaining. The Bulls had gone into half-time with confidence, but were blown out of the water with a strong and determined effort from the Cell C Sharks in the second half.
However, anything can happen in a final and after failing to secure the ball at the kick-off, we conceded a third try as the Bulls hit back quickly. Now a 10 point game, the result wasn’t guaranteed, but when pressure exerts, a team can either fight through or collapse.
Sadly for the Bulls, the Cell C Sharks pressure was simply too much and the mistakes, not prevalent in the first half, continued to bedevil them as they folded.
With just a couple of minutes remaining, the Bulls conceded a penalty in their 22 which was sent through the posts to confirm the win.
It’s been an incredible season for coach Sean Everitt’s young charges and today was worthy reward for their efforts.