The SA Schools team overcame two yellow cards and a penalty try as well as a ferocious England team to finish the SA Rugby Under-18 International Series undefeated by winning 33-27 in Wellington on Saturday.
The victory follows solid wins earlier in the series over Wales and Argentina in Stellenbosch and Paarl respectively, but the character of the SA Schools was tested like never before at Hugenote High School.
At one stage they trailed England by nine points, but they kept fighting back, registering the winning points with a number of minutes to play. The SA Schools’ gutsy defensive effort then held sway over the desperate English attack, who failed to add to the four tries they scored in the opening hour of the match.
The SA team started the strongest. Two early tries in the opening ten minutes had them well in control. For the second, Jan-Hendrik Wessels (prop) was given the ball a few meters out and England was helpless to stop his powerful burst. The conversion by Boldwin Hansen (wing) was wide.
The visitors did have the chance to cut the lead, but their flyhalf Orlando Bailey's penalty hit the post before 10 golden minutes followed for the visitors.
Their pressure on attack was rewarded with Emeka Ilione (flanker) running strongly to score. Bailey's conversion was good and the lead cut to three.
SA Schools winger Tarquinn Manual was given his marching orders for a dangerous tackle and as England drove towards the line, the maul was stopped illegally. Referee Adam Jones went to his pocket again, this time sending Simon Miller (lock) to the bin and awarding a penalty try to England.
That handed the English a 14-10 lead and the opportunity to play against 13 opponents for at least eight minutes. But Jurich Claasens (replacement flyhalf) kicked a penalty goal to cut the lead to one point and get some time on the clock to lapse.
The team in white did make another telling intervention against the depleted South Africans with another try. Bailey extended the lead again when the SA numbers were found wanting on the outside and the flyhalf found himself with only a prop in front of him. He easily rounded him for the third England try just before the break.
The second half did not start well for SA Schools. They were driven back by the England pack and when the ball was finally moved down the line, Matthew Ward rounded off in the corner, with the winger having an easy run off an overlap and a 24-13 lead.
That left the locals with some work to do to rescue the result.
Henco van Wyk rounded off a solid attack by his forwards, with a driving maul sucking in defenders and the outside centre could exploit the space. At this stage, Referee Jones was replaced by Italy's Manual Bottino for the remainder of the match.
The SA team picked up the pace even more and Gideon van Wyk (flanker) was at the end of some delightful inter-passing by his teammates to score. That cut the England lead to one point and when Claasens kicked another penalty goal, the lead went back SA's way.
Bailey kicked another to edge his side again, but the SA Schools showed why they are regarded as a special bunch. They kept plugging away until Keane Galant (winger) went over in the corner for what proved to be the final try of the match. Claasens converted from a tight angle to give his team a six-point lead.
England tried as hard as they could, but the SA resolve kept them scoreless and the local team unbeaten in the series.
SA Schools: Tries: Andre-Hugo Venter, Jan Hendrik-Wessels, Henco van Wyk, Gideon van Wyk, Keane Galant. Conversion: Jurich Claasens. Penalties: Claasens (2).
England: Tries: Emeka Ilione, Orlando Bailey, Penalty Try, Matthew Ward. Conversion: Orlando Bailey. Penalty: Orlando Bailey