FNB UKZN Impi on Top

The FNB UKZN Impi showed great character in the driving rain to record a 19-7 victory over the University of Fort Hare in Pietermaritzburg last Monday.

The UKZN Impi overcame a major crisis at hooker to win the opening match of the 2013 South African rugby season at Peter Booysen Park; a fitting tribute to the late Prof Booysen, who served as president of the Natal Rugby Union as well as principal and vice-chancellor of the University.

With former captain and hooker Justin Meanwell no longer eligible, much hope rested on SA U20 hooker Franco Marais, who was withdrawn, having been drafted into The Sharks squad. On top of that, regular understudies Mikiyle Webster and Nico du Plooy withdrew due to injury, and the Impi opted to start with Senzo Ngubane, a re-treaded prop and rely on under 20 hooker Richard Mhlongo as cover.

UKZN negotiated the sopping weather well, holding off a committed Fort Hare side. However, the Eastern Cape side, well led by Border flanker Billy Dutton and flyhalf Oliver Zono, stayed in the contest right until the final 20 minutes when the Impi pulled away with a try and three penalties to secure an impressive victory.

The home side grabbed the early initiative in the difficult conditions by keeping things tight and close to the forward pack, which resulted in the opening try when fullback Jeandre Small was forced over the tryline by a mass of bodies to make it 8-0.

Fort Hare responded by sending the ball wide, and although handling proved more than tricky in the wet conditions they kept the pressure on and opened their account when flyhalf Zono slotted a penalty.

The visitors had the wind at their backs in the first half and it showed as they spent plenty of time in UKZN's territory, forcing the home side onto the back foot.

That dominance paid off when fullback Khanyiso Komani sliced through the Impi's defensive line and released Zono, who pinned his ears back to score an impressive try in the left corner. Fort Hare were right back in the contest, with the Impi taking a slender 8-7 lead into the half-time break.

Both teams were struggling for continuity in the slippery conditions so the second half saw plenty of kicking as the battle for territory became the focus.

Some committed defensive work saw no change to the half-time score at the hour mark, leaving the game open for the taking in the final quarter.

The Impi showed plenty of intent after the final strategy break and sent the ball wide where substitute lock Gerrit Fourie popped up on the wing before beating the last defender to go over for a crucial try which stretched the home team's lead to 13-7. Three penalties from replacement Jaco Potgieter put the Impi firmly in control at 19-7, and they held that advantage until the final whistle.

The scorers:

Tries: Jeandre Small, Gerrit Fourie
Con: Carl Meyer
Pens: Jaco Potgieter 3

For UFH:
Try: Oliver Zono
Pen: Oliver Zono

- Jos Robson