Free State began their tournament with a 46-24 victory over the Sharks on day one of the U18 Craven Week in Bloemfontein on Monday. DYLAN JACK reports.
After an end-to-end match the home side came out on top after taking control of the contest in the second half. It’s likely that the Free State will play in the unofficial final of the tournament on Saturday.
The Sharks still deserve plenty of credit as they gave as good as they got and stayed in the game for as long as they could, only to have some ill-discipline and high-risk play hurt them in the latter stages of the second half.
Free State wing Paschal Ekeji enjoyed an impressive outing, despite receiving a late yellow card, while centre Lesley Botha grabbed a brace of tries. For the Sharks, Jordan Hendrikse was slick with ball in hand if sometimes a little too off-the-cuff for his teammates, and wing Mbasa Nkonki was a constant threat.
It was the Durban side that came out firing and enjoyed the better of early chances, taking the lead when Hendrikse put Ntokozo Makaza into a gap for a try. However, Free State hit back almost immediately when excellent hands had Andre-Hugo Venter dot down, before Botha scored the first of his two tries.
The Sharks struck almost straight from the ensuing kick-off as Makaza beat three defenders before setting Mbasa Nkonki off, with the wing shrugging off a tackler before dotting down under the posts. Some poor decision-making allowed Free State to regain the ball near the Sharks line, with lock Tiaan Jonker going over out wide to make it 17-14. Botha then scored his second from a lineout, with the home side taking a 24-14 lead.
While it looked like Free State were finally starting to settle, the Sharks kept themselves in the contest when Hendrikse sliced the defence open and reached over the line for a try. Free State went into the break 24-19 up.
Free State started the second half on a high as another strong maul took them close, before Ian Small-Smith put scrumhalf Elmar Lintnaar over. The see-saw battle continued as hooker Teague Loelly drove over the line from close range to make it a seven-point game.
Free State No 8 George Cronje snuck over from the back of a ruck as the home side again extended their lead, with FC du Plessis then slotting a penalty to all but ensure the result in the final 10 minutes. Ian Small-Smith added an excellent individual try in the closing stages of the match.
Free State – Tries: Andre-Hugo Venter, Lesley Botha (2), Tiaan Jonker, Elmar Lintnaar, George Cronje, Ian Small-Smith. Conversion: FC du Plessis (4). Penalty: Du Plessis.
Sharks – Tries: Ntokozo Makaza, Mbasa Nkonki, Jordan Hendrikse, Teague Loelly. Conversions: Jordan Hendrikse (2).
Free State – 15 Sonwabo Sokoyi, 14 Revaldo Maurice, 13 Lesley Botha, 12 Kian Fransman, 11 Paschal Ekeji, 10 FC du Plessis, 9 Elmar Lintnaar, 8 George Cronje (c), 7 Boela Manyala, 6 Deon le Roux, 5 Tiaan Jonker, 4 Monwabisi Khani, 3 Tielman Nieuwoudt, 2 Andre-Hugo Venter, 1 Mamello Moshoaliba.
Subs: 16 Ricky Fourie, 17 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 18 Mamello Letsoalo, 19 Sisonke Vumazonke, 20 Nhlanhla Senoamadi, 21 Juan Olivier, 22 Ian Small-Smith, 23 Katleho Chabanyane.
Sharks – 15 Ntokozo Makaza, 14 Derick Marshall, 13 Tics Ncela, 12 Mambo Mkhize, 11 Mbasa Nkonki, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Nico Steyn, 8 Chulumanco Mfakadolo, 7 Sasko Ndlovu (c), 6 Malwandi Dlangalana, 5 Ockie Barnard, 4 Wandile Hlope, 3 Blaine Golden, 2 Teague Loelly, 1 Okhule Siyeni.
Subs: 16 Daniel van Huizen, 17 Ryan Francis, 18 Vernon Matongo, 19 Siya Ningiza, 20 Massimo Fierro, 21 Anele Nzimande, 22 Ruan Wilmans, 23 Simelela Nkomo.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images