Michaelhouse edged rivals Hilton 23-22 in a thriller at Gilfillian on Saturday, to bring the curtain down on the schoolboy rugby season in KwaZulu-Natal.
With the first match between the schools abandoned at Michaelhouse in March due to a massive thunderstorm (Hilton were leading 7-0 at the time) there was all to play for in a fixture that is a highlight of the Midlands sporting calendar.
Michaelhouse started positively, with centres Patrick Howard and Dean Box running strongly at Hilton’s defence and creating solid platforms to launch attacks at Hilton’s line.
With both sides penalised heavily at the breakdown, it was Michaealhouse who drew first blood, scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki slotting a penalty which was cancelled out shortly afterwards by Hilton scrumhalf Jason Matthews.
Despite Michaelhouse losing left wing Eric Wiehe-Lagesse through injury in the first five minutes, the boys in red and white had the better of play as their dominant forwards ensured good ball for the nippy backs to stretch their legs.
Midway through the half, Michaelhouse flyhalf Austin Lockington scored under the posts and Mudariki added the conversion for a 10-3 lead.
This spurred Hilton into action, with right wing Tom Abendanon proving a handful with his strong, powerful running. With Hilton’s backs chipping at Michaelhouse’s defence something had to give and left wing Gilbert Richmond was rewarded with a try in the corner after a good build up and ball retention from the Hilton players. The conversion was missed and the half-time whistle saw the visitors enjoy a 10-8 advantage.
Hilton came back into the game in the second period but it was Michaelhouse who pressed home their advantage, with another Mudariki penalty and a try from fullback Michael Watson stretching the lead to 20-8.
With 20 minutes remaining, Hilton lay down the gauntlet. With nothing to lose and led by skipper Guy Alexander (No 8), the home side launched a desperate assault on Michaelhouse’s line, which resulted in centre Ross Bartlett scoring to make it a five-point affair.
As the minutes ticked by, Hilton again kept ball in hand and it was flank Dawid Swart who barged over to bring the scores level. Showing great nerve, Matthews converted from out wide and against all odds, the home side was 22-20 to the good, with seconds remaining.
There was time for the kick-off from which Michaelhouse gained possession and forced a penalty in front of the posts. Mudariki had other ideas and tapped and ran, much to Michaelhouse supporters’ dismay. However, Lady Luck was on his side and another penalty ensued which, this time, was aimed at the posts.
With nerves of steel, he slotted the kick, the final whistle sounding as the ball drifted between the uprights and more than a minute of extra time on the clock.
Tony Richter, Hilton’s coach, was gutted.
‘It was an epic clash and to lose in injury time, having come back to do everything but win, is gut-wrenching for me and the team,’ he told keo.co.za. ‘The lads played with unbelievable heart and character and hats-off to a Hilton side that has produced good, attacking rugby in a season that has seen promising results and a never-say-die attitude.’
Michaelhouse rector Guy Peason commended both sides for a fitting end to the season.
‘All 30 players deserve credit for one of the epic clashes between the two great schools. This match was brilliant and befitting of the long and great rivalry between Michaelhouse and Hilton. Both sides were winners on the day,’ he said.
In other KZN results, Maritzburg College made the best of playing at home to oust Glenwood 35-16, Kloof beat Hillcrest 10-5 in the traditional Highway derby, Northwood lost 16-9 to George Campbell and Port Natal edged Pinetown Boys High 22-19.
By David Knowles