The SA Schools team on Saturday showed nerves of steel to hold onto a narrow 14-13 lead against Wales in their final clash in the International Under-18 Series at Drostdy Tegniese Hoërskool in Worcester to complete the series unbeaten.
Strong winds complicated matters for both teams from the outset and forced them to eliminate kicking from their game. This in turn resulted in most of the rugby being played in the middle of the field in the first half, with the teams sticking to a tight game with close passing.
Fortunately for the hosts all the hard work this week to improve their set pieces worked as they withstood the pressure exerted by the powerful Welsh pack, while their defence again proved to be the highlight of their performance.
Welsh flyhalf Luke Price opened the scoring for the visitors 14 minutes into the match thanks to a scrum penalty following a few tight exchanges.
This narrow 3-0 lead gave them a mental edge as they showed more innovation on attack and stretched the home team’s defence. SA, however, built on the tenacious defensive effort from their clash against France and as they shut out Wales twice.
The tables turned on attack soon after as SA hit back with Jean-Luc Du Preez scoring a fantastic team try, which flyhalf Brandon Thomson converted for a 7-3 lead. The forwards were instrumental in the try as they applied pressure up-front and spread the ball wide to Du Preez, who was open on the wing.
But their lead was short-lived as Wales right wing Ashton Hewitt out-sprinted two defenders to dot down the ball over the tryline from a perfect grubber kick which forced them back into a one-point lead.
The home team continued to stamp their authority as the half neared a close as they camped in Wales’ 22 with the forwards building phases in an attempt to bash their way over the advantage line. The pressure eventually got to Wales, who committed numbers to breakdown but neglected the wing, which paved the way for Leolin Zass to cross the tryline. Thomson converted, which earned SA an encouraging 14-8 lead at the break.
SA’s forwards continued to lay a solid platform up-front, which allowed them to spend a fair amount of time in Wales’ half.
Wales, however, earned the rewards for using their forwards to edge their way over the advantage line, with Hewitt scoring his second try of the day after finding space on the right side of the field following a strong showing by the pack. But they again failed to convert, leaving the team one point behind on 14-13 with the clock ticking.
Wales managed to win a turnover in SA’s 22 in the dying seconds and tried hard to breach the defence to snatch a last-minute victory. But their efforts proved fruitless as SA held them out for the victory.
In the earlier matches England defeated France 12-8 and the Italian Under-18 team registered a convincing 36-12 victory against the Boland XV.
SA Schools – Tries: Jean-Luc du Preez, Leolin Zass. Conversions: Brandon Thomson (2).
Wales – Tries: Ashton Hewitt (2). Penalty: Luke Price.