Expect a close cross-Jukskei clash

The first part of the schools’ rugby season draws to a close this weekend, with the cross-Jukskei clash between St Stithians and St Alban’s one of the few games in Gauteng. THEO GARRUN reports.

St Stithians have had the edge in this fixture in recent years. St Alban’s last won in 2015, with St Stithians edging home 27-23 in a close encounter in Pretoria last year.

On paper, and according to comparative performances so far, it looks like it will be very close again on Saturday. St Alban’s have the better playing record – they have won 12 of their 15 games – while St Stithians have won five, lost five and drawn one.

The Joburg side has probably played against stronger opposition. Against common opposition it’s pretty even – both sides beat St David’s and St John’s and both lost to Jeppe and KES. Saints did, however, beat Pretoria Boys’ High 50-6 last weekend, while St Alban’s went down to them 36-13 a month ago.

Both schools have three representatives in their various provincial representative sides. It’s too close to call, but it is going to be a cracker between two teams that have plenty of skill and who like to run the ball at every opportunity.

St Stithians coach Grant Bell says he is happy with the season so far.

‘The boys have improved and we’ve developed a reasonable amount of variety in our game.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many of them have adapted to 1st XV rugby.’

Bell sees Saturday’s game as an opportunity for the boys to show their ability at home, against tough opponents who have won 12 of 15 games and who always seem to produce good 1st XVs.

‘They’re clearly a team who know how to get results and they have been competitive against everyone they’ve played, including big teams such as Jeppe. They provide a variety of threats around the field. It will be a good challenge to see how our boys react.’

St Alban’s coach Kennedy Tsimba describes their season as one of remarkable exciting and entertaining performances.

‘The defeats were about not being able to close the matches out, but that’s part of the schoolboy rugby experience,’ he said.

‘Saturday will be a very tough match as St Stithians has a very reputable rugby programme. We have lost a number of players through injury, and we have low numbers compared to most of the schools we play, so we don’t have the depth to carry us through, especially the end a season.’

The match at St Stithians kicks off at 11am.

Recent head to head record:

2014: St Stithians 21 St Alban’s 15
2015: St Alban’s 18 St Stithians 10
2016: St Stithians 28 St Alban’s 16
2017: St Alban’s 23 St Stithians 27

Photo: Theo Garrun