The Bishops faithful and there werent that many at 16.30 on a Tuesday were treated to a riveting contest as the prestigious English school Wellington College kicked off their tour of South Africa at the Piley Rees field.
That Bishops managed to hold out under enormous pressure to win 27-24 was frankly incidental. This match had it all: powerful scrumming, driving forward charges and scintillating backline play both on attack and in defence.
The visitors, whose 2nd XV trounced their hosts 34-19, waited barely two minutes before scoring the first try of the game, burly No.8 Tom Garvey receiving out wide from wing Matt Hughes, Wellington’s stand-out player on the day.
After having to be content with a few scraps of possession for the opening ten minutes, Bishops finally got on the board when scrumhalf Alban Kannemeyer sniped through a gap following a five-metre line-out. Tim Swiel’s conversion put Bishops up 7-5, a lead that was to last just ten minutes.
This time it was flank Peter Davidge who finished off a classic move in which the Platinum Blues’ defence was kept running backwards before the final pass broke their line. Flyhalf Elliot Markham added the two points. Bishops 7 Wellington 12.
There was still plenty to come before the change-over. First Bishops hooker Lusanda Doli barged over for a converted try, only for Wellington to respond on the half-time whistle with one of their own via outside centre James Middleton, the recipient of another brilliant Matt Hughes off-load. Bishops 14 Wellington 19.
The hosts drew level when right wing Kris Otto crossed halfway out two minutes into the second period. Warned about the length of time it was taking for the tee to reach him, Swiel, who wasn’t enjoying the greatest of days with his place-kicking, unsuccessfully attempted to goal the try with a drop.
The two sides kept each other in check for a long period before Swiel slotted a simple penalty to give Bishops the edge, 22-19.
With just eight minutes left on the clock the moment of magic arrived. Finding himself hemmed in on the left, Swiel broke right, chipped over the blanket defence and sprinted 40 metres down the touchline for what is a definite contender for the try of the season. Although he couldn’t goal his effort, there was now daylight between the sides at 27-19.
Not for long, though. Three minutes from no-side replacement left wing Alex Miller outpaced a hesitant defence to narrow the margin to 27-24. After a massive Markham penalty attempt had landed under the crossbar, Wellington threw everything at Bishops, only for a knock-on barely a metre from the line during a forward surge to finally snuff out their hopes.
Great preparation for Saturday’s visit to Paul Roos this might have been, but several worrisome deficiencies were evident in the Bishops defence, not least of them a reluctance to commit to the tackle, a fault which the visitors exploited ruthlessly. The locals’ man of the match was centre Johnny Kotze. The SA Academy cap ran great lines with equally impressive pace and power, ably assisted by midfield partner Jason Morris.
Wellington go on to play Rondebosch on Thursday, after whom they face Selborne and KES. Try to get to one of their games. They are hugely entertaining.
By Tony Stoops
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