What was billed as the match of the year certainly lived up to expectations. It was a long wait, but one that was worthwhile as Progress outsmarted and outclassed Old Collegians to walk away with a 14-12 win.
It was close, it was tense, and it had all the ingredients of a humdinger. It was certainly not a place for the faint-hearted. The physicality of the match was on another level. The battle lines were drawn from the outset and neither team gave an inch. It was so brutal that one player on each side suffered fractures, with Keith Kroutz of OC suffering a hand fracture and Tavy Smith of Progress breaking his jaw.
Progress came to play, they were the hungrier and they looked the more dangerous from the start. With all their experience and after camping for more than 30 minutes in the opposition half Old Collegians were left clutching at straws and with not a point on the board at half-time. It seemed, in the first half, Progress had all the answers for a Collegians forward onslaught, with the team in blue defending with everything they had. It was body-on-the-line for Progress. They made a mockery of the breakdown, slowing the ball down and were a menace at ruck time. This ploy frustrated Old Collegians who, time and time again, were left with their hands in the air in disbelief.
For all their possession in the first half, for dominating the set pieces, OC were stunned by a swift and decisive Progress attack from within their own half. Progress counter-attacked with the ball going down the backline in explosive fashion. It resulted in their running an entire 60m to score. Beertjie Olivier scored the only converted try of the half as Progress took a 7-0 lead at half-time.
A seemingly deflated OC came back stronger in the second stanza. Something had to give, and Sean Baartman crashed over for an unconverted try to reduce the deficit to just two points. The match was played at a very high tempo, with Progress gaining more and more momentum. It was no surprise when Brandt Fields cut through the Collegians defence to score and converted his own try for Progress to take a 14-5 lead.
The pressure was on OC to come back into the game. The forwards laid the platform with the referee awarding a penalty try. With the score at 14-12 the match was on a knife edge. In the end, when the final whistle blew, it was Progress who came away with an astounding victory. Progress came to play, their young team showed more fire, were more determined and had more to prove. OC have learned a hard lesson – never underestimate your opponents or it will end in tears.
In the end it was a good advert for rugby in the Van area. Progress deserve the victory and have earned the rights to be called the kings of the area.
In the other match at the Mlungisi Stadium, Breakers turned on the style by beating Wallabies 17-5.