Percival Sizara in PAARL, South Africa
The Old Mutual Zimbabwe Under-18 rugby team got their new campaign in the Coca Cola Academy Week off to a good note after a nervy 29-27 victory over South Africa Learners with Special Educational Needs (SA LSEN) at Paarl Boys High yesterday.
Lacklustre performances in previous Craven Week editions had seen the team being relegated from the top-tier to the unfashionable Academy Week.
As such there was pressure, and a lot of expectation, for the Old Mutual Junior Sables to prove that there weren’t spent forces in the South Africa Youth Week.
By the sixth minute, SA LSEN had taken a 10-0 lead through a try by Theuns Botha while Chezlin Oosthuzien converted and also scored a penalty.
The Zimbabweans then roared back with tries from Declan Ralphs and Matthew Owuru converted by Tinashe Hombiro and Mufaro Chareka to lead 17-15 by half-time.
Jared Kleynanhs sunk another try for SA LSEN. The Junior Sables extended their lead into the second half through David Bore’s try converted by Hombiro. But two breakaway tries by SA LSEN’s Kevin Ngwenya and Renier Boshoff, one converted by Oosthuzien, put the hosts 27-24 up taking the game to the wire.
It had to take massive bulldozing by prop Brendon Sibanda in the twilight stages to score a match-winning try. Zimbabwe coach Scott Gray, in his first win since taking charge, said this was the right level for his team.
“My personal opinion is that this is the right level for us. To be in the Academy Week is the right level for the Zimbabwe Under-18 team just because of the fact that the physical level that we play at is not the same level the South Africans play at.
“For us to go to Craven Week is a bit of a mismatch, physical-wise. The players are a lot bigger, a lot stronger, more physical, more determined, more driven.
“I actually feel that the Academy Week is more suited to Zimbabwe until we can start performing here (Academy Week) regularly.’’
They play their next game tomorrow.