By Quintin van Jaarsveld
The Fidelity South Coast Warriors rallied back after a slow start but ultimately suffered their first defeat of the season against Harlequins in Durban on Saturday.
The top-of-the-table clash lived up to the hype as the First Division South Section frontrunners threw everything at each other in an extremely physical affair.
The sides were evenly matched, however, the Warriors were left to rue a poor first half, which was enough to carry the hosts to a 21-15 win and snap the Warriors’ unbeaten streak.
It was a quintessential match of two halves as Quins stormed out of the gate and into a commanding 21-point lead after 30 minutes.
The Warriors had suffered a late setback with in-form loosehead Ben Oosthuizen having to withdraw from the side on Friday due to a neck injury.
Jacques “Tjoppies” Coetzee filled Oosthuizen’s considerable boots and the youngster delivered a valiant effort, but the disruption was clearly felt by the Warriors and exploited by the vaunted Quins pack.
With their backs against the wall and playing into the wind, the Warriors’ Wildebeest XV scrumhalf Chris Mitchell scored a vital try five minutes before the break from a great move from the back of the scrum, with Dylan Kroon adding the conversion to make it 21-7 at half-time.
The Warriors clearly had their tails up in the second half and kept the hosts scoreless for the remainder of the game.
A five-pointer from a driving maul by captain and Wildebeest XV stalwart Juan van den Berg and a penalty by Kroon reduced the deficit to just six.
The Warriors’ resurgence suffered a killer blow when Tienie Viljoen was controversially sin-binned for what was adjudged to have been a dangerous tackle.
The 14-man visitors fought gallantly at the death, and came close to completing a remarkable comeback, but time ran out and the Warriors had to be content with a losing bonus point.
Wing Marchell Sass was the best of the backs but the overall Man of the Match award went to big lock Nicolas Engelbrecht, who was outstanding in the lineouts – both on the Warriors and the opposition’s throw-in.
Coach Christo Henderson was disappointed with the result but pleased that they came away with a bonus point.
“We had a tough start as expected against a huge pack and they dominated the scrum and mauls in the first half.
“We had to work extra hard at the breakdown as our loose forwards had to stay in the scrums much longer as in our previous games and that cost us.
“The important thing is we managed to get the bonus point, so we did not come home empty handed and that could be very important down the line,” Henderson told eHowz!t.
He admitted that losing Oosthuizen on the eve of the game was a major setback.
“Ben is one of our star players of the season so far. His power in the scrums and rucks was definitely missed and it just showed again what a quality player he is.”
Henderson praised his charges’ fighting spirit and said it’s left him confident that they will put one over Quins in the much-anticipated return game at Douglas Mitchell Sports Grounds in the second half of the season.
“I felt that we were the better side. Quins played in the Premier League up to 2013 and are a quality team, but the boys responded well after the early pressure.
“The team’s fitness showed in the last 30 minutes, where we were the team who played the game and Quins had to defend.
“We crawled back into the match and were really close to scoring and winning the match at the end, which showed the guts and character of the team and the great leadership of Juan and the senior players.”
The Warriors second team showed glimpses of what they’re capable of but their erratic play led to a 38-15 loss.