GARETH DUNCAN watched Free State record a 28-17 win over the Lions in the U18 Craven Week unofficial final in Kimberley on Saturday.
Free State have qualified for the unofficial final for the past three seasons and have now won successive tournament crowns. It’s a record that proves that the Bloemfontein-based union boasts the best junior talent in the country.
On this ocassion, it was a convincing display by the victors as they held the ascendancy for most parts of the match. Free State ruled the set pieces and had the upperhand at the tackle points while their opponents’ physical attack was blunted by a resolute defence. Mental and defensive lapses at the death allowed the Lions to score two late tries, but it only added respectability to the scoreline as the contest was still predominately one-sided.
Free State enjoyed a 13-5 half-time lead after wing Ruwellyn Isbell ran in at the corner to touch down under the posts while wing Jan Strumpher kicked the conversion and two penalties. The Lions opened their tally through a Jaco van der Walt intercept try but they should’ve scored more points as the flyhalf failed to find the target from his three goal attempts in the first stanza.
Scrumhalf Nhlanhla Hlongwane, who scored the try of the match from a counter attack, and inside centre Jan Sefontein crossed the chalk to seal the win. Tries from tighthead prop Dirk Kotze and wing Safiso Shabangu created some hope for the Lions, but it was too late as Free State held on for the win comfortably.
Free State 28 Golden Lions 17
Free State – Tries: Ruwellyn Isbell, Nhlanhla Hlongwane, Jan Sefontein. Conversions: Jan Strumpher (2). Penalties: Strumpher (3).
Lions – Tries: Jaco van der Walt, Dirk Kotzé, Sifiso Shabangu. Conversions: Tshepo Mooki.