Our Very Own Champions!

By Siyolise Gqongwana

On 2 July 2022, the Carling Champions match returned for its second edition, as the Champions team and took on an Italian side hell-bent on spoiling the party at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Those in attendance were treated to a closely contested spectacle that saw the star-studded lineup come back from behind to defeat a resilient Italy ‘A’ side 31-27.

The home team was made up of several young players who had little to no experience at international level – and this was quite evident inside the opening 3 minutes when two successive loose passes were easily intercepted, one of them brutally punished by Italy’s Simone Gesi for the opening try of the game.

This frantic start by the hosts continued for the first 20 minutes until winger, Daniel Kasende, dotted over the line, following a crisp pass from Cheetahs teammate, David Brits, putting the Champions team right back into contention.

The scrum dominance by Stonehouse’s men was key in limiting Italy ‘A’ to only two tries, but the Achilles heel lied in their frequent handling errors – consequently going into half time trailing 17-10.

The home support was left with little time to worry about the scoreboard when Gqeberha-born artists, Naakmusiq and Heavy K, provided half-time entertainment with some of their smash hits which were very well received by the crowd. The homeboys also took some time to sign autographs and take selfies with some of the fans.

However, the Italians kept the scoreboard ticking immediately after the start of the second half by converting a penalty which gave them a 10-point lead. But this proved to be the beginning of their troubles, as a resurging Champions team found their form and responded with two back-to-back tries, putting them in front for the first time in the game. This lead was threatened when fullback, Clayton Blommetjies, got sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on inside their own 22.

Italy ‘A’ hooker quickly followed Blommetjies to the naughty corner following a dangerous tackle. This evened out the numbers and the home side ran rampage from there on in and was able to secure a narrow 4-point win, keeping the trophy on home soil.

Simphiwe Matanzima (Prop), also hailing from Gqeberha, was voted man of the match by the fans, and he expressed his gratitude for his hometown in his post-match interview.

“Gqeberha is a hotbed for rugby talent, and to have an occasion like this here is quite special as it inspires the young kids to take up the game one day,” he said.

From Biommetjies dancing in the sin bin, to the commentary team showing off their Italian vocabulary, it was truly a fun and memorable night of rugby at the Bay.

Photo credit: SA Rugby Mag

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