The season-closing derby between hosts Bishops and Rondebosch may have ended in a 19-19 stalemate, but the visitors will walk away with much to savour after their best performance of the year.
And, after opening up a 19-0 lead at the break, Bosch had every reason to believe they were headed for an upset win over their arch rivals.
But Bishops, ranked fifth in the country, showed heart in the face of adversity and deserved a share of the spoils. While they must have wondered what had hit them in that first half, they trusted their skills and instincts to produce a stirring comeback in the second half.
With referee Jonathan Kaplan taking charge, the visitors enjoyed their best opening 35 minutes of rugby this season that had the home side and crowd in a state of shock. Bosch, who came into this clash as heavy underdogs after losing the corresponding fixture 38-10, certainly came here to show they were going to be anything but pushovers on the back of marked improvement in the latter stages of their campaign. Those first plays saw a side committed in everything they did against their more illustrious opponents boasting a proud record of 19 wins and three narrow defeats by one point, two and one. But when a side brings commitment and passion to the game as Bosch did, it is prove that anything is possible on derby day.
Playing into a stiff breeze in the first stanza, Bosch stung their rivals with a try in the fourth minute, No 8 Raÿn Smïd using his speed off the mark from the back of a driving maul to touch down from close out. Scrumhalf Hilio de Abreu landed the conversion to give his side a 7-0 lead. That was doubled when, from a penalty taken into touch 5m out, Smïd replicated his earlier effort, De Abreu again on target for the extra two points.
Bishops could do little right in the face of the onslaught, and when they did try and string together any phases, found themselves on the wrong side of Kaplan’s whistle or making elementary handling errors and being turned over at the breakdowns.
Bosch flyhalf William Keet used his boot intelligently to set up the first try with a long-range effort into touch and continued to put his side on the front foot during those first 35 minutes. Bosch then claimed their third five-pointer in the 23rd minute through Giovanni Hofmeyer, the right wing finishing off a slick backline move with pace to beat off a couple of defenders in his corner.
Bishops opted for the pick-and-go approach without much impact as they were continually pinned at the collisions points. They could do little else but defend their lines as the visitors piled on the pressure, backs and forwards not missing a beat in the tackle, the structure they brought to the occasion working as planned and always looking to press home the 19-point advantage. Bishops did get close to opening their account in the final moments of an otherwise lacklustre first half, but centre Nathan Nel knocked the ball on metres out with an overlap to his left.
No doubt Bishops coach Dave Mallet went into the hut at the break with much to ponder, and whatever he said had the desired effect as Bishops came out more a cohesive unit and with a determined look in the eye. They raised their game markedly and within four minutes opened their account when scrumhalf Guy Whitfield went solo from all of 50m out, leaving one defender after another floundering as he darted left and right to the tryline. Fullback Tim Swiel added the extra two points to make it 19-7.
With prop Tshepo Motale a lively threat driving the ball downfield in open play, Bishops started to gain the ascendancy and it came as no surprise when they dotted down their second try in the 50th minute. From a quickly taken penalty flanker Evan Strauss muscled his way over from the back of a maul from metres out, Swiel converting to make it a five-point ball game.
Bosch continued to make a fist of it but may have let themselves down a tad by attempting to run the ball from their half instead of using the boot to keep their fast-improving rivals pinned back.
Bishops levelled the scores in the 56th minute through an unconverted try scored by left wing Uwe Jacobs, who somehow found the space along the touchline to evade the clutches of a few defenders before going over in the corner.
The final 15 minutes was a tight affair, Bishops full tilt in trying to break deadlock and the visitors admirable in defending the onslaught. Both sides traded penalty attempts at goal, Bosch with the easier effort but second-choice kicker Calvin Deny Young unable to put it over from 30m out and just right of the poles, while Swiel for Bishops had the distance but not the direction with a long-range attempt.
By Mike de Bruyn