29 June 2020 – Sport has played a defining role in the life of Waylon Murray. As a schoolboy, it led him to Westville Boys’ High (WBHS), then on to a professional rugby career, during which he wore the green and gold of the Springboks, and then, more recently, it led him back to WBHS.
In his primary school days, he attended Berea West where he initially excelled at cricket and athletics. “I really enjoyed my time there and I had a lot of positive people steering me in the right direction, especially with regards to sport,” he said in a recent chat with KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan at WBHS.
His mother did not want Waylon playing contact sports, but an approach by the Principal Philippe Paillard led to her consenting to Waylon playing rugby in grade 5. He ran out at eighth-man but, he admitted, he was undersized.
“Even when I got into high school, I was tiny in comparison,” he reckoned. “I had a growth spurt in the middle of grade 9 and into grade 10. I was also a year younger than most of my classmates. I finished school at 17.”
Waylon’s move to high school also coincided with a move to the backline due to his speed and footwork. “I enjoyed tackling, so I gravitated towards centre. It was close to the action. I started in the pack and then ran away from it when I got into high school,” he said with a laugh.
Although many of his classmates made the move to Westville, for a long time Waylon had no idea what lay in store for him regarding a secondary school destination. He explained: “At that time, I didn’t come from a privileged background. Philippe Paillard suggested, with the help of a few teachers, that I apply for a scholarship. I didn’t know where I was going to be. I was very fortunate that sport gave me an opportunity at Westville.”
As the son of a single mother, he would not have had an opportunity to attend Westville without that scholarship, Waylon said. “Nestor Pierides and Trevor Hall decided to take a chance on me and I came to the school.”
Initially, it took him a little time to adjust to Westville because he was, in his own words, “very introverted”, but he felt protected because of the support of Nestor and Trevor. “They were very supportive and they gave me a lot of opportunities to excel at school. My mom lent on the school a number of times when she couldn’t manage and every time they helped and were there for me.
“Being involved in team sport, even though I was socially awkward to a degree (in grade eight, I was still trying to figure out who I was), I was very grateful that I played with many good leaders and good people. It was helpful that I could play sport, coming in as a small fish into a big pond.”
Westville has a well-earned reputation for academic excellence and that, fortunately, was not a difficult transition for Waylon. He explained: “I have always been a disciplined person…and I assumed the role of head of the household (at least in my head) because my mom was a single parent.
“I always carried that weight of expectation with me. Whatever I did when I was at school, I was incredibly disciplined, which helped me in my [rugby] career. Obviously you need talent, but I wasn’t the most talented rugby player to ever have a professional career, but I did know how to be a professional and work hard. That helped me jump start my career.”
Sport helped Waylon integrate into life at Westville and he excelled in many different sports, playing for the 1st football team for three years, the 1st cricket side for three years, the first rugby team for three-and-a-half years [before the introduction of Bok Smart, which nowadays would have prevented that happening]. He also shone in athletics: in hurdles, long jump and the triple jump.
In 2018, Waylon presented his Springbok blazer to Headmaster Trevor Hall. The blazer now resides in the WBHS Griffin Room. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/ Westville Boys’ High on Facebook)
He named Doc Cowie as being a big influence on his cricket. Waylon was an opening bowler and middle order batsman who in matric played with future Dolphins’ batsman Martin Bekker and future Dolphins’ all-rounder Robbie Frylinck, who would go on to play T20 cricket for South Africa.
“I used to bat a lot in the middle order with Robbie Frylinck. He’s obviously matured and got a lot better after school,” he smiled. “I remember a lot of innings where we batted together, and we also bowled together, of course.”
In his matric year, when he was also the Head of School, he found that he had lost some of his love for cricket because of the long hours it demanded of its players. He started to turn his focus towards rugby. “I thought that was maybe a sign that I needed to concentrate more on rugby, even though I continued to play first team cricket. In football, I was never amazing, but because I was good at most sports I could manage to some degree.”
He added: “I enjoyed playing different sports. Looking back on it now, I am very grateful that I knew every season Nestor would come to me and say what he needed me to do. It was quite refreshing; after a long rugby season you look forward to football, and after football you look forward to cricket.”
In matric, though, there was disappointment when he missed out on selection for the KZN Schools rugby team. “I had a good year, but I was a bit young at only 16-and-a-half,” Waylon said.
The Westville 1st XV of 2003 included Waylon Murray as captain and Njabulo “Jabz” Zulu, his centre partner, who today coaches the Westville 1st XV with Jeremy McLaren.
“The Sharks at that time expressed an interest in me and they wanted me to do post-matric. I came back and fortunately I made the Craven Week team. I wasn’t on the radar for SA Schools or anything like that. But I played all the Craven Week games. We had a really talented team.”
The KZN line-up included Alastair Hargreaves (DHS), who captained SA Schools, future England international Brad Barritt (Kearsney), who also made the SA Schools side, and Westville’s Chris Micklewood (who would make SA Schools the following year) and Njabulo Zulu, among others. Zulu, Waylon’s partner at centre for Westville, is now coach of the Westville 1st XV with Jeremy McLaren.
Throughout his high school career, Waylon had paired with Brad Barritt when turning out for Pinetown and Districts. Missing out on the Craven Week team in 2003 was a big blow, but reuniting the following year was an enjoyable experience, he said: “It was good to be back with him that year and to finally get what I felt was recognition for my talent at the time.”
He joined the Sharks Academy in his first year out of school, but was in for a nasty shock when he didn’t crack the nod for the College Rovers under-20 side. But that proved to be fortuitous.
“Someone approached me at the Union and said there was an opportunity for me to go to Jaguars and play in the Premier Division, so I would jump a few levels. He felt I had been overlooked.”
It proved to be a fantastic move for Waylon. At Jaguars, he joined up with players, many of them from the Sharks Academy, who were part of the development programme.
“It became one of the best teams in the Division at that time,” he said. “JP Pietersen was in that side, Dusty Noble ended up playing for the Sharks, Howard Noble played Springboks Sevens, so we were a bunch of misfits in a sense and we landed at Jaguars. We just exploded. We were beating teams with a really young side. Most of us were under-20, under-21.”
Dick Muir was coach of the Sharks at that time and re-introduced club trials which, again, proved to be to Waylon’s benefit.
“Dick Muir had three rounds of trials. The Sharks players could watch. At the final trials, if you were chosen (I think there were 30 players), you then had a chance to have trials against the Sharks.
“Dusty, JP and I ended up making it all the way through. From not making College Rovers, to going to Jaguars, to going to Currie Cup trials and being chosen for the Currie Cup squad that first year was an incredible, fairy tale start for me.”
It was a remarkable elevation in a very short time and it was mind-blowing for the young centre. “I was star-struck. I was a year out of school and suddenly playing with these professionals I looked up to,” Waylon said. “But I was very fortunate that the Sharks had a very experienced group of leaders at the time. A lot of youth was injected, so there was a really nice mix.
“John Smit, AJ Venter, Percy Mongomery, all these guys that were in that group did so much for the development of the young guys. It was a really nice culture. You weren’t afraid to fail. It was a good place to be. We went on to have a good season a year after.”
His debut for the Sharks came against Griquas at King’s Park. In a game he doesn’t remember too clearly, one incident stood out: “I remember chasing through a kick and thinking I was about to score a try and Henno Mentz came in and got there before me,” he said with a rueful grin. “It’s all these weird memories. The pace of the game meant there was no let-up. For me, the whole game was over in a flash.”
Waylon had started studies in marketing when he joined the Sharks Academy, but his rapid ascent to the senior team soon put them on hold. In retrospect, he said, that was a good thing as marketing was not something he was interested in at all.
A screenshot taken from a YouTube conversation, dated 25 April 2020, between Waylon Murray and Jabz Zulu during the Covid-19 lockdown (Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9HxFTxaywQ)
By 2007, Waylon was in the Springbok reckoning and when Jake White opted to rest his frontline players ahead of the Rugby World Cup, Waylon got to pull on the famous green and gold jersey during the Tri-Nations.
Then, when Jean de Villiers was injured in the first game of the World Cup, it appeared that he was in line for a call-up to the biggest tournament of them all. Jake White, though, had other plans and opted for Wayne Julies, a player he was more familiar with, but one who had played little rugby for the Bulls that season. It hurt, Waylon admitted.
Nonetheless, during that season he got to spend valuable time with a very experienced Springbok squad. “I absolutely enjoyed being a part of the set-up,” Waylon said. “That Springbok team was really special in terms of talent. They knew how to win and they were a different breed.
“I stayed with them for a couple of months, even in the games I wasn’t playing, as part of the tour party. That was enjoyable. I got to spend time with incredible players, some of the best to ever grace the game.”
In 2007, Waylon also helped the Sharks top the Super Rugby table. They then downed the Blues 34-18 in the semi-finals at King’s Park to secure a home final against the Bulls. In a thrilling back-and-forth showdown, the Sharks were pipped 20-19 in the dying moments of the title-decider after a Bryan Habana try which had resulted after a disputed steal in the loose by Pedrie Wannenberg. It is the closest the Sharks have yet come to lifting the Super Rugby title.
As a young player making his mark, considerations of playing elsewhere were not at the forefront of his thinking but, after a very good run of over five years with the Sharks, Waylon found himself with a crucial decision to make when the Lions made an approach for his services.
“I think it is a crossroads for every professional rugby career,” he said. “You mature with the game and you learn to have honest introspection with yourself, including when it is the right time to go. I remember at the time the Sharks still wanted me to stay, but I had had a couple of injuries. I went to the Lions.
“It was a hard decision to leave, but I was probably going to get more opportunity with them. It was difficult leaving my safety net. As a competitive person, you want to prove people wrong and show you can come back from injury, even stronger. There was unfinished business. Going to the Lions felt like a fresh start.”
The transition was difficult in the beginning, and Waylon questioned himself, asking why he had made the move. But those misgivings disappeared. “When you push through an uncomfortable space and just stay and hang on, you get the reward,” he said. “That was the case with Joburg. I absolutely loved it. I loved playing for John Mitchell. It was nice to get the full backing of a coach.”
Mitchell has earned a reputation as a tough coach, but it was his straight-forward nature that appealed to Waylon and he took lessons from that approach. He explained: “John didn’t skirt around honest conversations and I enjoyed that. That’s how I have tried to maintain my relationships afterwards with coaches. You tell me exactly what you are thinking, rather than let me assume what it is. To have those hard confrontational talks, especially in pro sports, can be difficult. But I would much rather have that honest feedback.”
Towards the end of his time with the Lions, Waylon underwent a knee operation, which ultimately led to him leaving the union and signing with the then Southern Kings. Injuries, he said, are something every player has to deal with through the course of a season.
“I think every rugby player, to a certain degree, never comes into a match fresh, even if they are injury-free. You are always carrying some sort of knock. It’s about trying to get through the season and staying as fresh as possible, which is, I suppose, the nature of the game. Injuries are tough [to deal with], especially when you get a bit of momentum. I was hurt at different times when I had built up momentum.”
Recalling the first time he had to deal with a serious injury as a professional player, he said it was challenging, but also a time of growth: “The first time around, it is quite a dark place to be. You can’t see the finish line and you are forced to focus day in and day out on what you are doing. It’s quite tough to find motivation. In that time, I learnt to find some inner resilience, in terms of being more professional and setting new goals, smaller goals, and managing them.
The Southern Kings’ experience was memorable, he said, because of the people of Port Elizabeth and how they wholeheartedly supported the team.
The next five years were somewhat nomadic as he turned out for the Bulls, the Sharks again, and the Kings after that. In 2016, he tied the knot, marrying Nicci Goodwin in a wedding that was shared on Top Billing. Then, in 2017, he moved abroad to join the French Fédérale 1 club Mâcon. It proved to be a pivotal decision in Waylon’s life.
Waylon’s wedding to Nicci in Durban was a stylish affair which was featured on Top Billing.
Recalling that time, he said: “I went to France. My son Grayson was born there. It was an incredibly difficult time, but I loved France. I was there for 16 months, not very long. I should have gone earlier. I was with Mâcon, so I was close to Lyon. It was always a dream of mine to get overseas. I was not playing in the top division, but it was still a chance to travel.
“That season put a lot of things into perspective. I didn’t feel a pressure not to achieve – I was always professional and I worked hard, no matter where I went – but understanding where I was in my life, what I wanted next, and what I wanted for my family became clearer and the decision became a lot easier as the season went on. I could have milked another one or two seasons, but I thought it was time to have a little bit more stability.” The question became what form would that stability take?
“I had spoken to [Westville Headmaster] Trevor Hall throughout my entire career,” Waylon said. “I had reached out to him when I first got to France and asked how things were going at the school. We started to talk a little bit more and he told me that if I wanted to come back he would create an opportunity for me, which would give me a chance to give back to the boys through my experiences.
“At the time it wasn’t at the forefront of my thinking, but near the end of the season, after my son was born, I wanted to start afresh and try something different, and put my mark on a different project.” The move to Westville was agreed upon.
Waylon with Guy Coombe, who coached the 2003 Westville 1st XV that also featured Jabz Zulu, and senior sports officer Thomas Jackson. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/ Westville Boys’ High on Facebook)
When he arrived at the school, Waylon was tasked with guiding, counselling and supporting high-performance players across all sports. But the position of Sports Director was soon to become available.
He explained: “When I came here, Sharmin Naidoo was the Director of Sport, but he was in the process of leaving. I had the opportunity to start something different with the Sports Department. Sharmin was here for 10 years and he did incredible work, but I wanted to do things in a different way.
“I wanted to educate and help the kids to understand that sport is great and we would like [some of them] to have professional careers, but what is more important is your contribution to the world and how well-rounded you are when you come out of the school. It is about managing expectations and trying to create good individuals that are going to return to our legacy when they leave school.
“If they make it as professional sportsman, so be it. For me, what keeps professional sports going are the kids that continue to play after school, including socially. That’s why I always encourage kids that if it is their passion, in rugby, for example, but you’re not making it professionally, just play because you love it. There is a shelf life to your sporting time and you won’t have those gifts forever.”
It is important, too, that boys should enjoy the process of learning and growing together and not just focus on fixtures and results, he added. “I tell kids they always think about their big match on the weekend, but the actual room for growth is in the week.
“I recently spoke with Brad Mooar, who is an assistant coach with the Crusaders, and he was a really good mentor for me, because he was with the Kings before he went to the Crusaders, and he always used to tell me not to worry about the weekend, the week is where you have fun and grow. The matches are extra. As soon as you look too far ahead you stumble.”
Returning to Westville has been an enjoyable experience, Waylon said: “It is a very supportive environment and I think that’s always what makes Westville unique. It’s a really comfortable place where you feel you can be yourself.
“For me, it’s that mind-set of being of service to others, so I felt when I got here there were so many people that wanted to help. I am the type of leader that doesn’t want to have all the answers. I want to lead and grow with people. You learn from others and you get ideas from them.
“I am really grateful to be able to come into a place where I can be creative and try to do something special in a school that has changed, but which has maintained the foundations it was built upon.
“For me, it’s kind of a fairy tale [to return to Westville] because during my rugby career it was tough going contract to contract and moving to new places. Now, I have come to a place where I can finally breathe and relax, where I don’t have to worry about getting up and performing. It’s a different type of pressure. Being in this environment is very conducive for growth.”
Back in the Westville colours and loving his job as Director of Sport, Waylon Murray.
Casting an eye to the present day, 2020 looked poised to be a memorable year for Westville sport, especially the winter sports of rugby and hockey. The rugby team was expected to be one the school’s best teams yet, while the hockey side was coming off an undefeated 2019. But then Covid-19 flipped school sport and the world on its head.
Reflecting on what Westville and the school’s leading sportsmen have missed out on, Waylon said it would have been great to have outstanding teams, but the focus has switched to helping the boys deal with the disappointment of missing out on their season: “We’ve tried to be in constant conversation with the boys in terms of what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling and not concentrating on the loss, because that is what it feels like.
“Expectations were high and they wanted an unbeaten season, but it is sport. We hoped the season would turn out that way. We don’t know now and will never know [how it would have turned out]. We know who we are and we understand the boys are most important to us.”
He expects them to deal with the setback well, he added, saying character and resilience define the Westville boy.
“We’ve got a great leadership group under Gavin Sweet, who does our leadership,” he added. “I work closely with Gavin and share a lot of ideas. We do a lot of videocasts, interviewing people, so we are really like-minded in that sense. We definitely support each other when we are dealing with an issue. That culture of collaboration is vital. We grow as people, so leadership and emotional intelligence are important.”
Concluding, he said: “It’s been incredible coming back to see what has happened at Westville, the successes the school has had, the good years and the bad years. There has definitely been a shift since I was in school, with Westville continuing to rise and excelling in sport and academics.
“We always say sport is a good outlet for the boys, but academics is their primary focus. They need to understand that.” And those words, coming from a former professional sportsman and the school’s Director of Sport, are sage and pleasing words indeed.
Having recently mentioned Jem Nel in a story on the brilliant 1987 Natal Schools’ cricket team on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KZN10com/), KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan decided to also take a look at the Kearsney College 1st XV, captained by Jem, which that same year produced a season for the ages.
In recent times, Kearsney College has produced some exciting and very successful teams. They have also produced standout players; off the top of my head, internationals’ Brad Barritt, Matt Stevens, and the Du Preez brothers, Robert, Jean-Luc and Daniel, come to mind.
But a team that holds a special place in the heart of many in the Kearsney community is the 1st XV of 1987, a side renowned for an attractive and creative 15-man approach to the game.
They played 22 matches, won 18 of them, drew two others and lost to only one other school side, Maritzburg College, which had SA Schools’ flyhalf Udo Goedeke pulling the strings behind a powerhouse pack.
Their only other defeat was by just two points to an Old Crocks team featuring many former Natal players, 26-28. Sadly the Old Crocks no longer exist. Back in the day, they took on many of the top Natal schools and those matches were invariably superb skillful spectacles.
A year earlier, before the great season of 1987, much was expected of the Kearsney 1st XV of 1986, but the side failed to live up to its potential. In 1987, expectations had been tempered by the slightly disappointing results of the previous year. Jem Nel, then in his third year in the 1st team, said in a recent chat: “I don’t think we were expected to do as well as we did. There was a bit of hype around ’86. When we started in ’87, there was no hype. There were a few guys coming back.”
While Kearsney started out their season with a bang, it ended with a huge loss when Natal Schools’ flanker Mitchell Reed broke an ankle in the last minute of a 34-3 thrashing of Michaelhouse. “I think he was the best schoolboy player I ever played with,” Jem reckoned.
Like Reed, he also earned Natal Schools’ colours. Unfortunately that came only after the Craven Week.
He recalled: “Mike Falkson, my good mate from Westville, got chosen ahead of me. But there was an injury, so I got called up at the last minute.” Mitch Reed and Jem Nel were the only two from Kearsney to make the Natal Schools’ team that year, which is testament to the superb teamwork of the side.
Jem fondly remembers that season-opening win over Michaelhouse: “We hammered them. In my whole school career, that gave me the most satisfaction. That was the best rugby game we ever played. It was our first game of the season at Kearsney. It was brilliant to play, surrounded by the huge trees. It was fantastic.”
And there was always a little extra in it for Jem whenever Kearsney took on Michaelhouse: “You might remember, I didn’t get into Michaelhouse. I was going to go from Clifton [Nottingham Road] to Michaelhouse and I failed the entrance exam,” he laughed.
“I played sport against Michaelhouse for five years in cricket and rugby and I never lost to them, which was quite satisfying.”
Having mentioned Clifton, there was a remarkable occurrence in 1987, which Jem pointed out, and it’s something that one wonders whether or not it has happened before or since. He explained: “In 1987, the captain of Hilton was Rory Dyer and the captain of Michaelhouse was Bruce Herbert. I was captain of Kearsney. All three of us were from Clifton.” (Bruce has since pointed out that he was, in fact, captain of Michaelhouse in 1986. I attended Clifton at the same time as those guys and was there from 1978 to 1983. When I started there were 120 boys in the school and when I finished there were 150, so an incredible achievement from a very small school, nonetheless).
The author of this story, Brad Morgan (front left), next to Jem Nel (second from left), with 1987 Hilton College captain Rory Dyer to the right of teacher John Farren. Craig Hanbury-King, who played in the Kearsney 1st XV of 1987, is featured second from left in the middle row. Bruce Herbert, the 1986 Michaelhouse captain, is third from the left in the third row.
The two draws – 13-13 against a Westville team that included SA Schools’ player Errol Stewart and 6-6 against Hilton – were very different games, Jem shared.
“We played Westville at Westville on Bowden’s. I think we were a better team than them, but they gave us a hard time. I think it was a lucky draw for us. We scored a try and I think there were about 13 bodies under the ball!
“The other draw was against Hilton, where we played poorly. All they did all day was kick the ball on our fullback and wing. They kicked up-and-unders all day and it was a terrible game. That wasn’t a great draw, but I think the Westville draw was a great draw, because I don’t think we deserved it,” he said candidly.
Back then, Kearsney had only about 530 pupils, but they defeated all the big government schools, apart from Maritzburg College and Westville. There were some tight games among them. They won 15-7 against DHS and 9-8 against Glenwood.
A tour to Johannesburg included two big wins – 34-0 against Highlands North and 56-3 against Parktown, but King David (Linksfield) pushed Kearsney all the way, with the boys from Botha’s Hill pulling out a narrow 3-0 victory.
The 1987 team was coached by Fred Cocks, who served the school with distinction for 39 years. “Freddie was probably about seven years into the [1st XV] job by the time he got to ’87,” Jem said.
“He and his brother went to Westville Boys’ High. He was a brilliant coach. He was a short man, about five-foot, six, and he had this big voice. He was a fantastic motivator and he knew a lot about the game.”
“I remember clearly he called a Kearsney Old Boy, Wally Watt, who was a Natal flanker, to come and help us with one or two scrumming sessions. He was a fantastic man and he is still around.”
There was only one match in which Kearsney were clearly beaten up front and that was in the big showdown with Maritzburg College. “It was played at Kearsney and there must have been 15 000 to 20 000 people there that day, because they were the only two teams that were unbeaten in the season, and it was quite late in the season,” Jem recalled.
“The score was 20-10. I think we turned at 10-10 at halftime, and then we got pummelled by their forwards in the second half. Their forward pack just destroyed us. I think we did well to be in the game at halftime. They killed us up front.” Of course, back in those days, there was no limit on how far one team was allowed to push another at scrum time in schoolboy rugby, so it was a far bigger disadvantage than it would be nowadays.
“The ’87 side was a fantastic team. I say without a shadow of a doubt, we had the best loose trio. We had Mitchell Reed, who we lost after the first game,” Jem continued. “Then we had Chris van Noordwyk [who went on to play SA Schools cricket in 1989). He filled in there. And we had a farmer from the north coast called Craig Hanbury-King. He was brilliant. He was small and an excellent fetcher.
“Our Head Boy Graeme Thompson was at lock. He was a big guy and we had another water-polo player at lock, Steve Garreau. We had a decent pack up until the time we met College and we were annihilated.”
The ’87 team also included Nkululeko Skweyiya, better known as “Squeegee”, who had burst onto the scene in 1986. That year, playing on the wing, he scored 22 tries and represented Natal Schools.
“He came from the Eastern Cape and he was a stalwart. He had a side-step and speed that nobody in Natal had,” Jem said. “I think in ’87, he sort of got worked out. We moved him closer to the ball, so he ended up playing most of the time at centre. To our advantage, everyone was focused on him and we had other good players.” The team benefitted, but Squeegee didn’t have as good a year as in ’86 and missed out on Natal Schools’ selection.
Mitch Reed, Jem Nel and Nkuleleko Skweyiya were awarded their honours, while Greg James, Pierre du Toit, Kenneth Everett, Stephen Garreau, Craig Hanbury-King, Stuart Hulley, John Leach, Craig Symons Graeme Thompson and Ross Wood received their colours.
Fred Cocks’ 1st team report in the Kearsney magazine noted of Jem Nel: “The success of the side can largely be attributed to his exceptional captaincy. His ability to motivate his fellow players was indeed of the highest order of leadership. His skilful and creative play saw him narrowly miss selection for the Natal Schools Craven Week team, but deservedly gained him a cap in Pretoria.
“In addition, he was one of three players who scored 11 tries*, the most by an individual. Congratulations on a great season.”
*(The others were scrum-half Pierre du Toit and Craig Symons. Mitch Reed dotted down seven times in only seven matches.)
Reed was clearly an extraordinary talent, as described by Fred Cocks in his report: “One of the best rugby players seen at Kearsney for many years. His strength, skill and mental attitude to the game is exceptional.”
Rugby is one of the great team games, especially when it comes to team spirit and off the field relationships, and to this day Jem still keeps in touch with eight or nine of the 1st XV of 1987: “We’ve got a WhatsApp group, so we’re in contact regularly, especially over lockdown now,” he reckoned.
He lives close to Kearsney and his son, Cameron, completed grade 12 at the school in 2019. Even though the ties are not as close as they once were when Cam was in school, Jem still maintains close contact with Kearsney.
“I watch a lot of sport,” he concluded. “When there’s cricket or rugby on, I love it. If I have nothing on, I go and watch. It’s close and close to my heart. We’ve had good times at Kearsney. I think the emotion of winning is gone, but it’s good to go and watch schoolboy sport.”
Easter Tour of East Griqualand, Natal Midlands
Kearsney 40-0 Port Shepstone
Kearsney 33-0 Ixopo
Kearsney 50-6 Escourt
July Tour to Johannesburg
Kearsney 34-0 Highlands North
Kearsney 56-3 Parktown
Kearsney 3-0 King David (Linksfield)
Kearsney 34-3 Michaelhouse
Kearsney 15-7 DHS
Kearsney 24-3 Pinetown
Kearsney 6-6 Hilton
Kearsney 27-6 Beachwood
Kearsney 26-28 Old Crocks
Kearsney 9-8 Glenwood
Kearsney 10-20 Maritzburg College
Kearsney 31-9 Port Natal
Kearsney 13-13 Westville
Kearsney 25-9 Kingswood
Kearsney 40-0 Saint Charles
Kearsney 20-7 Alexandra
Kearsney 31-18 Old Boys
Played 22, won 18, lost two, drew two
Points for: 554, points against: 155
Kearsney, Northwood share spoils in cracking season-opener
2019: Just four points separated Kearsney and DHS
2019: Kearsney Festival day three
2019: Kearsney Festival day two
2019: Kearsney Festival day one
Looking back over the past weekend’s 1st XV rugby results, there were some interesting scores: Kearsney’s 29-10 win over Clifton was expected, while Northwood drew their second game in succession, finishing 14-14 against Maritzburg College. Hilton’s 14-10 defeat of Glenwood, while a very big result for the Midlands’ boys, was not totally unexpected. What really stood out, though, was Westville’s 52-7 dismantling of DHS.
DHS has produced some very good rugby and some very good teams in the recent past, so to see them beaten by 45 points was surprising and quite shocking. KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan caught up with Westville’s coaches, Jeremy McLaren and Njabulo “Jubs” Zulu at the school on Tuesday, to find out more about the Westville 1st XV of 2020.
Saturday’s game was a late start to the season for the Griffins. They had been scheduled to kick things off the previous Saturday against Hilton College, but that game was called off due to concerns over the coronavirus, stemming from a positive result on the test of a Hilton local. Instead, Westville held some internal trials. Then, on Saturday, it was time for their first outing against DHS. Down 0-7 early on, the home side rallied to run up 52 unanswered points.
Rugby 2019: Westville vs Maritzburg College report
Rugby 2019: Westville vs Maritzburg College, how the Westville coaches saw it
Westville 1st XV coaches Njabulo “Jubs” Zulu and Jeremy McLaren.
“We were quite amazed by the fitness levels in our first game,” coach McLaren admitted. But that level of performance and the impressive victory, he revealed, were a number of years in the making.
“It’s a journey that we started two years back, when Jubs and I started here. A few things were not in place and we will never forget that our match against DHS here was 60-10 against us. We had about 19 injuries! We went through a process where we had to get things back in line.
“Last year, we had control of that game as well, but we let it slip. This year, we knew we had to get it right and it would all fall into place. But it is a special group.”
There has been talk that this year’s Westville 1st XV is a top unit but, McLaren added, “There is also so much work that has had to go into it. There was a lack of a lot of knowledge and certain skill levels [when we started with them].
One big decision that the coaching team made has proved to be a masterstroke. They moved Mambo Mkhize from eighthman to centre and in 2019 he turned out for KZN Schools in the midfield.
Jubs explained that he had heard criticism from others that Mkhize was not assertive enough in his ball carrying. But those people, who didn’t know Mkhize as well as Zulu does, were not giving recognition to his other skills, like his soft hands and cover defence.
“He doesn’t want to assert himself, he wants to put other people into space,” Zulu explained.
Westville star Mambo Mkhize made the switch from eighthman to centre with devastating results for opposing teams. (Photo: Martin Ashworth)
When he and McLaren discussed moving Mkhize to centre, they took on advice from someone who had previously done something along those lines with great success. “We called Mzwakhe Nkosi, who is the KES coach. He did a similar thing with a player, Yanga Hlalu, who played SA Schools (2017).
“He moved him from flank to centre. I asked him what the things were that made him certain that Yanga would work as a centre and he said he’s got the skill set and the vision. So why not do it? We did it.”
“The critics that count now see Mambo asserting himself. We’re happy with his development,” Zulu said. There is even talk that Mkhize is one of the front-runners for selection for the SA Schools team.
Successful sides require not only the leadership of their coaches, but leadership from within and that hasn’t been difficult to come by in this year’s line-up.
“We’ve got quite a lot of seniors in the group, especially in the backs,” Zulu said. “We are fortunate to have a lot of guys who were in grade 11 last year, so they would have learnt a lot. They drive a lot of what we do and they’re really excited to be in this position. They are really confident guys.”
The team environment (and it is encouraged) is hardly what one associates with a top rugby side. Zulu explained: “We’ve got quite a unique team. We are not the traditional team. If you saw our warm-up, there’s music and laughter, whereas a lot of teams that I have worked with are very serious and focus on needing to be psyched up.
“We’re completely the opposite. The guys are talking, there’s a vibe and laughter.
“I think we’re confident, but we’re being true to ourselves. A lot of the characters that we have in our team are very jovial, fun-loving guys.”
He recalled how when Westville played Michaelhouse in 2019 there was a very serious vibe about the side and that had the coaches worried ahead of the start of the match. It showed on the field as Michaelhouse outplayed Westville.
“We saw it coming because the energy was off that week. We know the kind of team and characters that we have, so we need to embrace it.”
The McLaren/Zulu coaching team also promotes a game that features flair. “Ever since Jubs and I connected as coaching partners, it was always about taking the risks,” McLaren admitted.
“We came up with a slogan of being wild at heart, because that is how we’ve been created. We want to take chances.
“I will never forget, last year we played Kearsney on our Old Boys’ Day and Carlo Del Fava, the ex-Italian international, was helping with our forwards. Our boys were inside our goal area and Jubs and I said ‘let’s go’ and Carlo looked at us and said ‘guys, you’re crazy’. To cut a long story short, we went and scored in the corner on the other side.
“For us, it’s a basic thing that you play what you see. We’ve been in trouble, with people that know the game questioning why we don’t kick. But that’s not our philosophy. We want them to have fun and we keep saying to them that the only mistake that they can make is the one that they don’t fix. Even international players make mistakes.”
Fitness is key for such an approach to work, but that, too, is not done simply with a traditional focus on running.
“[Fitness] has always got to do with a game that they play,” McLaren stated. “When Jubs does defence, it’s quite a lot of running, like a shuttle, forward and back. Our conditioning programme is not just big weights. It is all multi-functional stuff to enable us to play that type of game.
“The biggest thing is we try to make the boys think for themselves. We give them options to play and they choose.
“We definitely play a running brand of rugby. If you close us down, we’ll use a kicking game. If you don’t close us down, we will run at you.”
Having a promising season nipped in the bud, McLaren admits, has been a real downer. “We’re depressed, but you can’t do anything about it.
“This is one of the better teams, if not the best team, that Westville would have produced. I am not saying that a future team won’t be at this level, but this is a special group.”
He then ran off the very challenging schedule that Westville was supposed to have played: “We would have played Framesby now, which is a good side. Queen’s College is different. We’re going to try and rescheduled Affies. At the Kearsney Easter Festival, we had EG Jansen, HTS Drostdy and HTS Middelburg.” That’s a list that reveals a fear of no one.
Joy and celebration for Westville in their 52-7 win over DHS. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/)
“We had already done our homework and we worked out that within that space of time, those physical games, who would go where and Jubs has a good idea of who would be our back-up flyhalf, because that was a big problem for us, if we lost our 10. But now our other one is just as good.
Ruefully, he concluded: “It feels like you’re in this movie and you want it to end now.”
Having served up a tasty and entertaining teaser with their superb display against DHS, here’s hoping we get to see the Westville 1st XV of 2020 have more opportunities to show off their skills.
Multi-talented all-rounder Troy Botha is the kind of learner that Westville Boys’ High School strives to produce. He’s a good academic student, a strong contributor in a number of sports, having earned provincial colours for cricket and most recently South African under-18 colours for softball, and he also sets a good example as a school prefect.
KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan sat down with Troy at the school this week to discuss his achievements, going back to the start of his sporting days, and, of course, asked him about the 2020 Under-18 Softball World Cup, which was played in New Zealand from 22 February to 1 March.
Proudly wearing the green and gold national colours of South Africa, softball star Troy Botha.
He’s a left-hander in everything he does which, Troy believes, gives him an advantage. It also has limited some of his options in softball, but he plays either first base or outfield, while batting fifth or sixth in the order.
The foundation for his success in the sport was laid in primary school, but it didn’t begin with softball. Rather, it started with baseball, which he played at Atholl Heights, and it was only in the last two years of his primary schooling that he started to play softball. It didn’t take long for him to make his mark.
He first earned his KwaZulu-Natal colours in grade six, at the age of 12, and went on to represent KZN at under-13 level for two years. Then he had to decide on a high school.
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The move to Westville Boys’ High for his secondary education was a simple decision. Not only was his brother, Kyle, at the school, but he was also approached by the school’s Marketing Manager who had seen Troy in action in a rugby match against Westville. From there matters moved quickly.
Recalling the rapid pace at which things happened, he said: “Mr Du Plessis liked the way I played and the attitude that I had. The match was on a Wednesday night, he called me on the Thursday and booked an interview for the following Monday. The intent that he showed and how keen he was for me to come to Westville and have a look around the school really did help.” Oh, and Westville also played softball.
Judging by the enthusiasm with which Troy now talks about the school, it was the right decision. Westville was a perfect fit.
At the school, he was introduced to English teacher and 1st team softball coach, Warren Hitchings. “He’s been really good for me,” said Troy. “He’s helped me with my sport and my softball especially. He’s been with me through quite a lot.”
In grade eight, Troy was selected for the KZN under-15 team, but grade 9 presented him with a difficult choice after he was named in both the KZN softball and cricket sides. Explaining how he came to his decision, Troy said: “It was my first year making the cricket team, so I chose the cricket over the softball.
At the end of 2019, the KwaZulu-Natal under-17 team, under coach and Westville teacher Warren Hitchings (third from right) won silver at the National Summer Games. The team included six Westville boys: Troy Botha, Craig Reid, Kian Garnham, Joel Wadsworth, Ethan Shirley and Taine Scott. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/)
“Cricket started pretty much since I could walk,” he recalled. “My first word was ‘ball’. That kind of said I was going to play a lot of sport. ”
It was at the end of 2018 that it became clear that he might be destined for bigger things in softball. After the National Summer Games in Kempton Park, he was chosen for an All Star Team. That was followed by a national training camp and after that he was named in a side to go to Nigeria for a World Cup qualifier against the West African nation. Two other countries, Botswana and Mali, had pulled out, so it was a two-horse race for a place at the Softball World Cup.
Nigeria was an eye-opener for Troy, not necessarily on the sporting front, but in terms of how people live their lives in other parts of the world.
“The experience in Nigeria was something else. Things are a lot tougher there. I wasn’t expecting that, things like the way they drive and the rules of the road, there aren’t many,” Troy related.
“We had an armed bodyguard with an AK-47 throughout our whole time there! You don’t want to go anywhere else besides your hotel and the playing fields. I had no idea that this was going to happen. It was a bit of a shock, but we were well looked after.”
On the field, things went well. South Africa beat Nigeria and booked themselves a place at the World Cup.
Troy Botha, rounding the bases for KZN in interprovincial competition. (Photos: supplied)
Predictably, given South Africa’s lack of international competition and relatively small base of players, there were some challenging games in New Zealand. There was one big loss to Australia, other games in which they were convincingly beaten, a couple which could have gone either way, and two which the South African side won, defeating Denmark 12-2 and the USA 11-7.
“That was quite an accomplishment,” Troy said about the win over the Americans.
“We lost close games to Singapore (8-9) and Mexico (5-7), where we could have pulled off the win, but things, at the end of the day, just didn’t fall our way.
Being a World Cup, though, South Africa did get to face the best teams in the world, including runners-up Australia and bronze medallists, the Czech Republic.
Viewed objectively, Troy said good memories were made: “We were chuffed with our performances. A lot of guys showed up well. It wasn’t a one-man show, it was a group effort.”
While he has national colours in softball, Troy is looking to cricket to possibly help him onto a different big sporting stage.
Although a talented side, in the first term the form of the Westville 1st cricket team was somewhat inconsistent. Troy, an all-rounder, described it as tough. “We were meant to be quite a strong side; nobody seemed to be in form at the same time. If one guy fired, then the rest of the team seemed to let that player carry them.
“We did get quite a few good wins. We came close against Clifton, chasing quite a big total. They really did well. We fought hard and gave it our all.
“All the [KZN10] schools here are very good opposition. You don’t get games where you know you are going to win. It’s always 50/50.”
On a personal level, though, Troy had a solid season. “I was taking the wickets that I needed to,” he said.
“I want to try and go overseas, either the UK or Ireland, on a club cricket contract. Possibly, if I get the opportunity, I would then like to play on a bigger stage.
Troy, showing off his all-round ability for the Westville 1st cricket team. (Photos: supplied)
“I was recently approached by the Futura Sports Agency and I will be going for an interview with them. I have been keeping in contact with them and we’re going to have a meeting to try to get me into their Prodigy to Pro Program. They specialise in scouting overseas at academies to get opportunities for people like me to go and play there. That would be a big help.”
Interestingly, and it reflects well on the type of person Troy is, when asked what immediately comes to mind for the sporting highlights of his life so far, they’re all team-related Westville memories, and they’re not even in softball or cricket.
“It is about the team,” he said. “At under-16 level, we played rugby against Maritzburg College here, on Bowden’s, and Maritzburg College were unbeaten all season. They had beaten Glenwood, who, I think, were ranked first in the country at that time.
“We ended up beating them by something like 10 points, which was really special. Also, because it was the last game of the season.”
Troy on kicking duty during the rugby season. (Photo: supplied)
Troy is currently in the 2nd XV for the rugby season, playing at inside centre.
Then, revealing another string to his bow, he identified the football season of 2019 as another highlight. Troy was selected as left-back in the Westville 1st team, training under coaches Ryan Liberty and Brad Wood.
Being left-handed (and left-footed) is an advantage, Troy believes. (Photos: supplied)
It wasn’t a great season in terms of the overall results, he admitted, but there were some wonderful matches played. There was a fantastic come-from-behind win over Kearsney when Westville, down 0-1, struck twice in the last five minutes to win the game.
Then, there was a clash with Maritzburg College on Goldstone’s. It was the first time that College played a football match on their hallowed ground, the scene of so many cricket and rugby successes for the school from the KZN capital. Westville, though, spoilt the party. “It was quite an accomplishment to beat them on Goldstone’s,” Troy grinned.
With such a busy sporting life, with much of it played at a very high level, balance is a challenge, but Troy performs solidly in the classroom. Given Westville’s outstanding academic tradition, it is expected of the boys, but, in his case, Troy said he owes his teachers a great deal.
“It is challenging academically and the teachers do challenge us, but the pressure is really good, and I appreciate the teachers for doing that. They really do help us a lot and they don’t sit back and wait for you to do your own thing. They put the pressure on you to make sure you perform to the best of your ability.”
And that pretty much sums up Troy Botha: performing to the best of his ability in a wide variety of sports and other aspects of school life and loving his time at Westville Boys’ High School.
Coaches don’t expect perfection in a season opener, but there are other things they hope to see, like character and fight, and by that measure both Northwood coach Grant Bashford and Kearsney coach Nico Breedt will be satisfied with the effort of their charges in a pulsating 24-24 draw on Stott Field at Kearsney on Saturday, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.
Fortunes and momentum ebbed and flowed in the contest and, ultimately, there was nothing to separate the two sides on the scoreboard, not even at half-time when they turned level at 12-12. Both teams notched two tries and a single conversion in each half.
Northwood, after a memorable 20-12 victory over Kearsney at home last year, their first win over their Botha’s Hill opponents since 1996, wanted a good follow-up to that performance, but just three members of the side that claimed a sweet win in 2019 are left in this year’s line-up. That didn’t hinder them at all in the early going, though, as they took charge from the first scrum when they turned up the torque and powered over the Kearsney pack to earn a penalty, much to the delight of the travelling supporters.
The Knights were dominating up front and scrumhalf Prolight Shoba was doing a wonderful job in providing a quality, quick service from the rucks, which helped Northwood build up impressive momentum. They were soon rewarded with the opening try when Onyekachi John-Osunkwo powered his way over in the right corner. Luke Dudley put in a desperate smothering tackle, but momentum carried the Northwood centre across the try-line.
Northwood centre Onyekachi John-Osunkwo scored a first half brace. (All photos: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)
The visitors then more than doubled their lead with a well-worked try, which was, again, rounded off by centre John-Osunkwo. Deep inside the Kearsney half, he profited from running a good line off the shoulder of his flyhalf, Emmanuel Bhiya, to receive a short pass, which pierced the home side’s defensive line and put him in under the posts.
At 0-12 down, it looked as if it might become a long afternoon for Kearsney, but the home team then showed character and resolve to lift their game and put Northwood on the back foot.
Kearsney centre Connor de Bruyn attempts to fight off a tackle from Northwood flyhalf Emmanuel Bhiya.
Kearsney forced a shot at goal from a penalty, but it missed the mark. However, they didn’t have to wait much longer to get on the scoreboard through their centre Dudley, which drew a massive roar from the home side’s supporters.
Four minutes from the break and suddenly Kearsney had drawn level. From a five-metre lineout, they mauled effectively towards the Northwood try-line, splintering the visitors’ defences, before loosehead prop Cameron van Eck crashed over for the five-pointer.
Kearsney forced their way over with a drive from a five-metre lineout to level the scores.
A gutsy, determined stand on their own try-line then stopped Northwood from edging in front once more, just before the half-time whistle.
After the break, Kearsney piled on the pressure and were almost over, but flyhalf Bhiya and towering lock Christopher Viviers combined to hold up the ball-carrier over the line.
The momentum was with the home team, but the pendulum swung when the Knights, who had been under sustained pressure, engineered a thrusting break down the left-wing from a turnover, with fullback Unathi Mayekiso diving over in the corner to put his side ahead once more at 17-12.
Kearsney, again, turned up the heat and their captain Massimo Fierro was brought down only centimetres shy of the line after a powerful thrust. Stopped there, they quickly shifted the ball from left to right to put fullback Trent Coetzee into plenty of space and he sprinted over for a third five-pointer for the men in maroon.
Centre Luke Dudley makes a break in the second half.
Kearsney’s fourth try, when it came, mixed simplicity with individual brilliance. From a set piece, flyhalf Matthew Hind, attacked the line before flipping a short ball to right wing Ayabonga Mngaza, who was flying up on his inside shoulder. Mngaza then did the rest, his mazy run cutting one way then the other, leaving the Northwood defenders grasping at air as he scythed his way through from 40 metres out to score a stunning try underneath the uprights. The simple conversion put Kearsney 24-17 up.
Winger Ayabonga Mngaza proved a handful for the Northwood defence with his pace and evasive running.
With time running out, Northwood surged onto the attack, but Kearsney’s defence was resolute: Northwood bashed the ball up and Kearsney repulsed them with some stiff tackling.
Then, with only three minutes remaining on the clock, fullback Mayekiso received a pass on the Kearsney 22. Pumping his big thighs hard, he brushed aside two tacklers, forcing his way through a half-gap before breaking clear to fly over and dot down under the uprights. A simple conversion levelled the game at 24-24.
Unathi Mayekiso burst through the Kearsney defence to score Northwood’s fourth try.
The home team tried manfully for the winning points, carrying the ball through a number of phases, but Northwood gave little away to keep Kearsney out of scoring range and when the final whistle sounded a draw was probably a fair result.
“If you’re unemotional about it, it was entertaining. It was back and forth and it could have gone either way,” commented 1st XV coach Grant Bashford afterwards.
“From the start we had, we’re disappointed to draw, but being down then coming back to draw, we showed a lot of character. All in all, there are some mixed feelings.”
Kearsney coach Nico Breedt, summed the up the clash as “a typical first game of the season. Both sides would have wanted fewer mistakes. I thought they were better than us in the set phases.
“From a Kearsney point of view, we would like to work on that. They put us under a lot of pressure during the set phases. We couldn’t exit our own half with the kicking game, which was quite poor.”
Referencing Northwood’s hot start, Breedt added: “We’ve got a good record at home and we weren’t panicking at 12-0 down, and I thought at one stage we were going to get some momentum after we made it 12-12. Unfortunately, instead of converting that pressure into more points, we let them back into the game.”
A strong showing from the Northwood forwards ensured quality ball for the Knights’ backline.
The performance of the Northwood pack at scrum time pleased Bashford: “They were under pressure, they couldn’t get off of the base of the scrum. [Eighthman] Massimo Fierro and [centre] Connor de Bruyn were their two big carriers, Fierro off the base and Connor running shorter. They never really got that going today and that was from the pressure that was exerted in the scrum. We did enough in our scrum to unsettle them at the base and deny them the momentum that they were looking for from Fierro and De Bruyn.”
For Breedt, the big plus was the character his charges showed when under pressure: “At times our defense was really strong and I was happy with that, because it is the first time that we have been tested, with this being the first game of the season.”
Of concern for Kearsney will be the health of their captain Massimo Fierro, who was seen walking around after the game with an ice pack on his left shoulder, which was also in a sling. His AC joint will be assessed to determine the extent of his injury.
Kearsney eighthman and captain Massimo Fierro (passing the ball) is an injury concern ahead of their match against Clifton College on 14 March.
Casting an eye over Northwood’s performances throughout the day, coach Grant Bashford expressed satisfaction: “For us, for the day, our under-14 A team won, our under-15 A won, our under-16 A won and our first team has drawn, so it’s a good day out, and it’s not all about the first team, it’s the system that we’re doing at home. I think a draw is the best result we’ve had here in a long time, so we’ll take it.”
1st XV: Kearsney 24-24 Northwood
2nd XV: Kearsney 29-3 Northwood
3rd XV: Kearsney 43-29 Northwood
4th XV: Kearsney 25-5 Northwood
5th XV: Kearsney 33-17 Northwood
U16A: Kearsney 14-19 Northwood
u16B: Kearsney 21-21 Northwood
u16C: Kearsney 17-14 Northwood
u16D: Kearsney 5-47 Northwood
U15A: Kearsney 10-17 Northwood
u15B: Kearsney 10-14 Northwood
u15C: Kearsney 14-10 Northwood
U15D: Kearsney 17-19 Northwood
U14A: Kearsney 5-29 Northwood
u14B: Kearsney 10-49 Northwood
u14C: Kearsney 19-12 Northwood
u14D: Kearsney 14-22 Northwood
2019 Northwood vs Westville match report
2019 Northwood vs Hilton match report
2019 Just four points separated Kearsney and DHS
2019 Standard Bank Kearsney Easter Rugby Festival day three report
2019 Standard Bank Kearsney Easter Rugby Festival day two report
2019 Standard Bank Kearsney Easter Rugby Festival day one report
KEARSNEY College first XV and St Stithians of Johannesburg produced a match chock-full of adventurous running studded with moments of individual brilliance and well-worked tries but punctuated with an uncomfortable number of unforced errors.
The touchdowns on The Stott were shared 5 apiece.
Next up for Kearsney is another home game – when they meet Hilton College this Saturday, 2 June 2018 on The Stott.
Kearsney lit up the scoreboard first in the St Stithians match through a penalty goal by the ever-consistent Taine Muirhead (3-0).
The 3-pointer in the 6th set the tone in the next 10 but errors coupled with wrong options kept the Saints within reach.
Kearsney pressure finally turned into a 7-pointer… a move that reflected much work on the training paddock saw fullback Robbie Koenig break the line before forwards/backs contributed to set up winger Gcina Gumede’s flight over the whitewash out left (10-0).
Featured image: Kearsney College fullback Robbie Koenig races away from his St Stithians pursuer during the 36-31 victory on The Stott Saturday.
Photo Tracey van den Aardweg
Momentum shifted… Saints collected a Kearsney outlet-pressure kick to nail a collective 7 points in dazzling fashion out right (10-7).
The hosts recovered fast. From the kick-off, pressure earned a penalty after a dangerous tackle on winger Gumede.
Kearsney opted for a scrum feed. A precision backline move ensued. A marked degree of player-to-player awareness and cohesion – earned through considerable effort at trainings – resulted in the selfsame Gumede touching down on the other side of the park from where Saints had transgressed.
The Muirhead conversion set Kearsney 17-7 at halftime.
The teams changed ends and St Stithians gave evidence that they were far from done. Somewhat against the flow, the visitors capitalised from a spilled ball, making short work of a disorganised defence (17-12).
A Saints touchdown would tip the balance in the visitors’ favour for the first time. It duly happened when Kearsney let themselves down with another soft error and the 7-pointer saw the scoreboard read Kearsney 17 St Stithians 19.
Not for long. A quickly-taken Kearsney penalty and clever punt was followed up by fullback Koenig. As the 15 readied to catch-and-dive for try-time, a Saints tackler committed too early. The consequent penalty try tilted the balance in Kearsney’s favour once again (24-19).
The Kearsney spark blossomed into full-blown flame when, first, lock forward Jordan Morum benefited following structured play off a scrum launch. Then, a quickly-taken Muirhead/Koenig lineout combo stretched Kearsney’s lead to 36-19 with 14 left.
Once again, the Saints signalled they weren’t done. Sustained pressure earned 5 points (36-24).
With the final whistle looming, further mindful attack by the Saints culminated in Kearsney losing a yellow-carded defender.
A converted try confirmed that Saints made maximum of the opportunity.
Final score – Kearsney 36 (17) St Stithians 31 (7)
Kearsney – 5 tries, 4 conversions, 1 penalty
St Stithians – 5 tries, 3 conversions
Kearsney match summation – Positives: ball-in-hand & field-position. Concerns: missed opportunities & at-times poor discipline.
Next up: Kearsney vs Hilton College on The Stott.
Date & kick-off: Saturday, 2 June 2018 at 3pm.
* Kearsney Founders Weekend.