In the biggest game of the year and in the clubs recent history, Villager FC stood tallest when they claimed a 25 – 23 bonus-point win against Sir Lowrians on Saturday 30 August at Brookside to claim the WP SLB title. Half time score was 8 – 13 in favour of the visitors.
Villager, as the second oldest club in South Africa, has only ever spent two years in the B League in their illustrious 136 year history. Sir Lowrians on the other hand have yet to feature in the SLA, this year being their first in the SLB in their brief history. However when one considers their impressive march through the divisions in recent years, the “Navy Train” has entrenched themselves as a club on the rise and a fixture not to be taken lightly.
When the fixtures were released earlier this year the game that had everyone talking about was Villager versus Sir Lowrians at Brookside in the last round. If one were to write the script for the SLB this year they couldn’t have asked for a better finish to the season. With Sir Lowrians big name players and budget against Villager and their newly adopted amateur policy, the last round was certainly not only going to be a battle for the title, it would also be a battle between the two different ideals.
The scene was certainly set for one of the most exhilarating climaxes to the season with Villager in desperate need of a win to reclaim their long-held SLA status and Sir Lowrians clearly wanting their SLA ambitions finally realised. With Sir Lowrians arriving in silk suits and ties in an attempt to make a bold statement and Brookside packed to the rafters with supporters on both sides, as well as numerous other clubs desperate to watch, this last round fixture was going to make history one way or another.
It was evidently obvious that both sides were up for the clash, hard running and big hits were exchanged from the start with former touring Springbok, Earl Rose, superbly running the show for the visitors. As a result the visitors held a slight advantage early on, however it was Villager who scored first in the opening five minutes through debutant winger, Neil du Toit, after a grubber from flanker Jannie Bester was misjudged by the opposition in their in-goal area. With the ball lose, du Toit pounced barely getting a hand on the ball to dot down millimetres before he went out. Little did the Brookside faithful realise how the grubber and tiny margins would define their side’s performance later on.
Sir Lowrians had their chances to strike back soon after as Villager fell afoul of referee Bennie Botha, a trend that would continue throughout the game. Only a knock on over the home teams try line kept Sir Lowrians from scoring after a series of penalty kick opportunities were turned down in favour of the five pointers. However with the Brooksiders defence resolute, Captain Earl Rose did eventually opt for the three points to close the gap to two, however with such an important psychological battle lost, the Navy Train’s earlier bravado soon quietened with the realisation that the home team would not be easily overcome.
If the first quarter comprehensively belonged to the visitors, the second quarter was a far more even contest in terms of territory and possession. Although Villager had their chances, it was the Visitors who took the majority of theirs. Even though more three pointers were turned down in favour of lineout drives, the subsequent failure of these decisions did ensure the visitors opted for the points when they arrived later on. However one has to question the decision of taking on the Villager forwards when a win, without a bonus point, would have handed the title to the Helderberg based side. Be that as it may, Sir Lowrians did eventually take the penalty kick option, Rose converting from in front of the sticks to take the lead for the first time after Botha penalised the home team for yet another breakdown infringement.
With Sir Lowrians on the front foot, Villager tried to strike back with a series of attacks in the visitors 22 meter; however their frequent unforced errors handed Rose the opportunity keep his side in the right side of the field through his devastating kicking out of hand. With territory in their favour the Navy Train launched a superb driving maul in the Villager red zone, creating the opportunity for their powerfully built prop Leon Samuel to score in the corner. Rose, in front of his supporters, converted the difficult kick to give his side a commanding eight point lead.
With time almost up in the half and Sir Lowrians in the lead, Villager needed to strike back to ensure the score line did not run away from them. From the subsequent kick off Villager successfully won a rare penalty from Botha, albeit near the touch line and outside of the visitors’ twenty-two. With Villager on their third flyhalf of the season and with no recognised kicker in the side, Neil du Toit on debut would have to bear the responsibility after his exemplary efforts in the 2nd XV. With a calmness usually associated with seasoned veterans he slotted the difficult kick to bring Villager back to within striking distance going into the half.
Only forty minutes stood between the two sides and with the title as well as automatic promotion on the line, the suspense could be felt amongst the spectators. With the game on a knife edge, the second half kicked off with Villager surging forward and looked certain to score early on after man of the match, Geoff van Ryndeldt, put David Radloff into space, however with Rose as the last defender he seemingly knocked the ball down intentionally in his attempt to intercept the pass. With both referee and assistant allowing the indiscretion, the visitors survived.
From the subsequent scrum, Botha handed Villager a free kick which they used to set up a ruck in centre field for the man of the hour last weekend, Ryan Germishuys, to score with an outstretched arm next to the posts. Du Toit converted to move Villager into the lead by one point.
Almost immediately, and in keeping with the games stature as the unofficial final, the lead changed again when Sir Lowrians were handed a penalty in the Villager half. Rose slotted the kick to move his side to 16 – 14 lead. Not being content with being behind, Villager struck back soon afterwards from a deft chip kick by du Toit for Van Reyneveldt to dot down inches from the dead ball line. Credit must be given to the officials in this instance as photos afterwards proved how close the ball was. Du Toit missed the conversion but crucially Villager led by three.
Straight from the kick off Sir Lowrians were handed a penalty near the front of the Villager posts, a kick that should have been an easy one for Rose, but uncharacteristically he missed, handing Villager a crucial lifeline. However they did strike back with another try by Samuel after a series of lineout drives and quick taps heaped the pressure onto the home team. Rose converted to move the scores to 20 – 23 in favour of the visitors.
Going into the last quarter and needing a try to win, Ryan Germishuys, the mercurially talented and obviously confused tight head prop, proved his class when he threaded a grubber kick through the defence for du Toit to claim his second and hand Villager the winning points. With the final whistle reverberating around Brookside after a period of sublime defence and calmness under pressure, the Villager players erupted in euphoria embracing each other as champions of the SLB.
As the first coach to have won the SLB for Villager, an emotional Hughes could hardly contain his delight. “What this team has achieved today is immense and I am so proud of them. In fact the whole Villager community is proud of them,” he says. “To have been written off after Hamlets, only to have emerged as champions by beating Sir Lowrians in the last round is unbelievable!”
“I cannot thank everyone involved in this turn around enough,” Hughes continued. “From the coaches, to the back room staff and committee, and not forgetting the players themselves, today would not have been possible without everyone at the club.”
Villager FC has been officially confirmed as SLB Champions after the Sir Lowrians/Rangers fixture was decided to be called a draw by the WP Executive. Villager FC, as a result of their finish in the log, are automatically into the semi-final of the Presidents cup. Details will follow soon as the fixtures have been confirmed.
Try: Neil du Toit (2), Geoff van Ryneveldt (1), Ryan Germishuys (1)
Conv: Neil du Toit (1)
Pen: Neil du Toit (1)
1. Troy Lee 2. Scott Pitcher 3. Ryan Germishuys 4. Andrew Wilkins 5. Richard Williams 6. Brodie Blows 7. Jannie Bester 8. Ashley Clarke (CPT) 9. Christo Terblanche 10. Jarred Stokes 11. Blane Hansen 12. Geoff Van Ryneveldt 13. David Radloff 14. Neil Du Toit 15. James Allderman
Sir Lowrians RFC
1. Leon Samuel Djeukou 2. Hendrik Westraat 3. Francois Mcnish 4. Alphonso Fuller 5. Charl Pretorius 6. Oswin Dean Mentoor 7. Johannes Kruger 8. Benjamin Adams 9. Jaques Coetzee 10. Earl Rose (CPT) 11. Ashwin Keith Peters 12. Allistair Kettledas 13. Berton Klassen 14. Shaun Labuschagne 15. Tervin Britz