Quintin van Jaarsveld
The Riversmead South Coast Warriors pummelled Piet Retief 55-12 at Jonsson Kings Park on Friday to clinch the coveted Dewar Shield for the first time ever.
A near-perfect campaign culminated on a perfect note, as Chris Mitchell and his men outclassed their opposition in all aspects of the game to etch their names in history.
The First Division South Section champions had too much firepower for the North Section winners in the league decider, which doubled as the curtain-raiser to the Currie Cup clash between the Sharks and the Pumas.
The Uvongo-based side had one hand on the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union’s most impressive trophy as they led 26-5 at half-time, and didn’t let up in the second half as they marched to the First Division title in style.
Lock Lunga Madlala and fullback Keith Chirwara each scored a brace, with tighthead prop Lourens Stapelberg, No 8 Brendan Rademeyer, centre Rameez Allie and replacements Kamevihle Fatyela and Tristan Rothman also dotting down.
Centre Donovan Horne slotted four conversions, while replacement prop Tian Malherbe kicked the final conversion in what was his final game.
It was a perfect send-off for Malherbe, as well as loose forward Dawie Durrheim, two stalwarts who’re hanging up their boots after helping the club reach new heights over the last couple of years.
Man of the Match honours went to Madlala, known to his team mates as “Lang Jan”, up front and right wing Senanelo Ndlazi.
“I’m over the moon!” skipper Mitchell told eHowzit.
“The game was wet, which made it hard to hold onto the ball. We adapted to the conditions, kept the ball tight and ground out our opponents,” he added.
No player is more fitting to lead the Warriors to the magical milestone than Mitchell, as he’s the great grandson of legendary Natalian MP and United Party leader Douglas Mitchell, whom the home ground of the club is named after.
“It’s an honour for us to make history. I’m proud of the boys and it’s an awesome feeling to lead the team through this great season,” said Mitchell, who alternated between his regular position of scrumhalf, hooker and flank this season and scrummed down in the No 2 jersey on Friday.
“It wasn’t quite a perfect season with the one loss, but we set our sights on this trophy from the beginning and went out to get it with force.”
The Warriors’ lone loss of 2018 was a narrow away defeat to Hillcrest, which they avenged in the return fixture before winning the rubber match in the opening round of the Hollywoodbets Murray Cup.
After two seasons in the Moor Cup, being relegated to the First Division was a bitter pill to swallow, however, the Juan van den Berg-coached outfit proved to be a cut above the rest.
They made a statement from the get-go as they became the first team in the 90-year history of the Usher Cup to win the competition for a fifth straight year in Kokstad in April and reached the quarter-finals of the Murray Cup.
Their time in the Premier Division had elevated their intensity, fitness level and overall standard of play, while the Sharks Academy SKZN significantly bolstered the club’s depth.
“After dropping to the First Division, we had a target on our back. We were the team to beat and everyone were against us,” said Mitchell.
“It’s been tough, but we are Warriors and we showed this division we’re not going to lie down for anyone, so winning this trophy is an awesome feeling.”
Mitchell hailed his history-making teammates, saying, “We have a great bunch of guys this year. The boys put a lot of hard work in and it paid off. A big shout out to the coaching staff and the boys; next year, we’re going to make it another win.”
He added, “I’m proud to be a Warrior. We’re grateful for all the support we get from the locals when we play at home. We’re proud of our undefeated home record this season – thank you South Coast.”
Team manager Francois Slippers said, “What a year! Dropping from the Premier to the First Division, the players and coaches had a lot to prove. We were blessed to be able to select youngsters in place of players who got injured. This squad was determined to make the South Coast Warriors the best team in the First Division and we’ve managed to do just that.
“The club’s grateful to the players for their commitment and time away from their families in order to realise our goal. The team, coaches, management and club committee would like to thank all our fans who supported the Warriors at home or away games.
“Lastly, a special thanks to Juan van der Berg [head coach], Jason Hector [forwards coach], Marchell Sass [backline coach], Hein Rens [conditioning coach], Pieter Smit and Nico Potgieter [committee members] for their hard work and role in our success this season.”
The ground-breaking 2018 Riversmead South Coast Warriors squad: Chris Mitchell (captain), Juan van den Berg (player/coach), Jade Nyman, Lourens Stapelberg, Chris Sharpe, Lunga Madlala, Cameron Camp, David Durrheim, Brendan Rademeyer, Graeme Bester, Brandt Fields, Mangwe Marubellella, Donovan Horne, Rameez Allie, Senanelo Ndlazi, Keith Chirwara, Msizi Mzindle, Tian Malherbe, Xolani Batyi, Kamevihle Fatyela, Tristan Rothman, Yonela Baleni, Marthinus Viljoen, Jacque Coetzee, Xander Lourens, Arnold Kruger, Devan van Eeden, Dylan Kroon, Jaco Coetzee, Johan Gericke, Marchell Sass and Nico Smuts.
Photos by Howard Cleland/The Sharks