AGAINST ALL ODDS
USSA Rugby was held at Rhodes University in Grahamstown this year and VC entered a young but eager team, hungry for the challenge and needing the experience. It proved to be a challenging competition for the Varsity College boys, as we seemed to encounter obstacles at every turn. But in true VC fashion, the boys rose to the challenge and would not be fazed.
Our first challenge was to ensure we were actually able to arrive for the first game, as we were notified the day before we were due to leave that the accommodation was no longer available. We quickly scrambled into action and managed to arrange accommodation at the NMMU campus in PE (some 140 km away). We arrived in PE on the Sunday night at 10pm (after a 15 hour bus trip) and rose at 5am on Monday to get to Grahamstown on time for our game.
We arrived in Grahamstown 30 minutes prior to our first game against UKZN and the boys were quick to change and begin warming up (which was needed, as it was very cold in Grahamstown in the early morning). The facilities on the Rhodes “B” field were decent and the officials were well organised. The game kicked off and the fatigue was evident almost immediately as we were under enormous pressure from UKZN in the first 5 minutes, resulting in an early try against us. This appeared to wake the boys up and they rallied in fine style, scoring 2 good tries before half time to lead 14 – 5 at the break.
The 2nd half saw VC scoring a quick try early on, before seeming to settle into a defensive mode for much of the 2nd half. UKZN seemed to sense this and pressed hard, casing VC to concede 2 tries. With the score precariously balanced at 21-19, VC scored a well worked try in the right hand corner. Both sides traded penalties in the dying moments, with VC emerging 28 – 22 victors at the final whistle. It was a great start to our tour and it lifted the team spirit significantly. The refereeing, while not of a high standard, was consistent and fair.
Tuesday was the teams’ relaxation day (after some celebration the night before) and the boys made the most of it. Wednesday saw another early start, with the boys having breakfast on the bus on the way to Grahamstown. Playing on the “Main” field, we arrived to find the tiny changerooms flooded and the field poorly marked. However, the boys took it in their stride and changed outside. We were up against a formidable CUT team from Bloemfontein, who had almost all the Varsity Shield players in their team. This was always going to be an enormous challenge for our young team, but they played with enormous heart and were 19-12 down at half time. However, the size and experience of the CUT players told in the second half and they eventually overpowered the VC side. CUT scored a further 4 tries to win 50-12. Credit must go to the VC boys, who all punched above their weight and put in a credible performance. Despite the score, the refereeing was also very good.
After losing to CUT, VC were drawn to play UWC in the 3rd / 4th place playoff on the final day. A number of injuries in the CUT game meant that VC played with only 5 players on the bench and a number playing out of position. This was also the earliest start and meant getting up at 4:30am to ensure we were at the game on time. The game was played at St Andrews College and the facilities were fantastic. VC started well, putting pressure on UWC scoring 2 quick tries in the first 20 minutes. However, UWC soon realised they could take advantage of some very poor refereeing by the referee (coupled with a partisan touch judge) and they came back strongly to lead 24-10 at half time.
Further injuries and continued frustration with the officiating eventually told on the VC team and we were only able to add a solitary penalty in the second half, while UWC scored 2 more (debateable) tries to end the game 38 – 13 victors.
Varsity College finished 4th out of 8 teams in the B pool, which was a remarkable achievement given the challenges faced. The spirits were high and the experience gained will stand them in good stead next year.