Hilton College beat hosts Northwood 31-15 on a picture perfect day in Durban
Saturday 27 April was a type of day that’s made Durban famous, clear blue skies and an even bluer ocean and a slight South Westerly to keep the temperature down. With the Indian ocean as a breathtaking backdrop, Northwood school hosted Hilton College from the Natal Midlands in an epic inter schools match.
Northwood came into the fixture quietly confident after a successful Easter festival. A late change on Friday though saw influential pivot Juan-Pierre du Preez ruled out because of a stomach bug. In the resultant reshuffle, fullback Ntokozo Makhaza shifted in to cover at flyhalf.
Hilton College started the brighter of the two teams and with what was to become a trend through the afternoon, made much inroads through their forwards.
After working the ball up to the Northwood line the ball was quickly recycled to Michael Booth who, with some deft footwork, spun through a tackle to score under the poles. Wilmans converted putting the visitors up 7-0 after 5 minutes.
Stung by the early pressure, Northwood launched attacking forays of their own and made their way up to the 22 metre, in their attempt to slow Northwood down the Hilton boys were penalised for being offside. Captain Ndlovu elected to kick at the posts and Makhaza stepped up to slot the penalty to make the scores 7-3 after 15 minutes.
After the ensuing kick-off Northwood got pinned in their own half and this gave the Hilton pack the necessary impetus to start taking matters into their own hands. Wave after wave of ball runners in the midfield pushed the Northwood defence further and further back until they were defending for their lives on the goal line. A special mention must be made to the discipline and technique of the Hilton boys during this passage of play, it was something to behold as they marched purposefully up to the Northwood line.
Under the relentless assault on their line Northwood were again caught offside as their midfield scrambled to cover the ever increasing holes in their defence. A shrill blast on the whistle and the referee raised his arm in front of the poles. Northwood thinking that Hilton were going to take the 3 easy points momentarily lost concentration. In a flash SA 7’s player Liteca Nela spotted the Northwood boys out of alignment and taking a quick tap penalty, dived over under the poles. Wilmans Converted to make the scores 14-3. A body blow for Northwood.
Hilton again received the kick-off and after some great tactical kicking from Wilmans saw Hilton pin Northwood in their half again. Hilton College were quite simply on fire at this stage with the cohesion between backs and forwards a marked feature. After another clinical clean out at a ruck, the ball was spun through the hands and as the defence rushed up Nela put a deft dink behind the on rushing defenders. Fullback Thabiso Dlamini, reading the play, showed a great turn of pace to beat the cover defence to score 10 metres for the uprights. Wilmans again converted making it 21-3 to Hilton. Northwood were reeling and not a moment to soon the half-time whistle blew.
It was marked how differently the two teams approached the 1st half of the game. Hilton were quite happy to kick out of hand and on countless occasions moved play 30 metres up field by simply kicking into space and allowing Northwood to run it back. When Hilton did have the ball it seldom passed outside centre preferring rather to keep it close to the forwards.
Northwood on the other hand kicked quite little but instead tried to run the ball at almost every opportunity. Against a team like Hilton you need some variation to keep their defence thinking. There were occasions where Northwood created opportunities to get the ball down the line with an advantage of an overlap or a mismatch. All to often though the ball would either stick too long in the hands when a simple draw and pass would suffice or the ball would be knocked on. Frustrating for players and supporters alike.
Hilton started the 2nd half the same way that they ended the 1st and after receiving the kick-off, worked their way up to the 22 before Northwood were penalised for coming in from the side at ruck time. Captain Armstrong elected to kick for poles and Wilmans obliged to make it 24-3.
Up to this stage Northwood hadn’t had any ball to play with and it was from the resultant kick-off that one could see the change in the Northwood game plan. Where as in the first half they were content to throw the ball around, in the 2nd half they kept the play a lot tighter with the ball seldom going down the line in any expansive back line play.
The strategy immediately paid dividends as Northwood started making inroads into the Hilton defence as the forwards took to their task. They were fierce and fiery in ploughing into the rucks and mauls and ran with purpose and commitment. And it was after Northwoods best passage of play that Hilton were caught offside 5 metres out right in front of the poles. Some quick thinking from Makhaza caught Hilton off guard and the slippery flyhalf dived over to score a try. He converted to make the scores 24-10.
In a almost carbon copy of the first half, Hilton’s forwards again decided to up the tempo and set up a ruck in mid field. Northwood expecting the ball to be taken up close to the ruck, got to narrow in defence and paid for it dearly. The ball was quickly moved left and some slick handling released winger Joshua Cox(Featured image (C)HIlton College).
With nothing between him and the goal line except empty grass the winger pinned his ears back and raced 40 metres down the touchline to score in the corner as the defenders raced to cut him off. Wilmans attempting his most difficult kick of the afternoon lined up the conversion and dissected the up rights from the touchline, 31-10 to Hilton with 14 minutes to play.
A series of penalties pushed Hilton further and further into their half and some smart inter play between the Northwoods backs and forwards forced a line out 5 metres from the Hilton line. The resultant maul was sacked by Hilton but the ball was spun to the back line with Northwood looking like they were about to breach the Hilton defence. Some great work at the breakdown by the Hilton forwards, however, resulted in them stealing the ball and with space spotted on left the ball was again given to Cox to stretch his legs.
In a split second the gap closed and in trying to keep the ball alive a wild pass was thrown which bounced ever so close to the touchline. Mpendu showing great dexterity and skill picked up the ball before it could go out and headed for the try line. As the cross cover defence was about to bundle him in to touch he neatly offloaded to Ndlovu who crashed over to score. Unfortunately Makhaza missed the extras and the score stayed 31-15 to Hilton with 9 minutes to play.
That was the end of the scoring for the day as the action moved between the two 22 metre lines for the remainder of the game. That Northwood won the 2nd half 12-10 is an indicator that the Knights stepped up mightily and showed that the final 31-15 scoreline to Hilton was a little more flattering to the visitors than it should have been.