Cape Town - The Under-18 Coca-Cola Craven Week and Coca-Cola Academy Weeks got off to a flying start at Kearsney College in Durban on Monday with a handful of teams making their presence felt early on.
The Sharks, Western Province and the Pumas registered strong starts to the U18 Craven Week, while Western Province, the Sharks and Golden Lions registered confidence-boosting victories in the Academy Week.
A total of 296 points and 36 tries were scored on the opening day in the Craven Week, while 277 points and 40 tries were scored in the Academy Week.
In the Craven Week, hosts, the Sharks, worked their way to a 36-24 victory against Eastern Province, while Western Province overpowered Boland 41-20 and the Pumas held their nerve in a nail-biting encounter against Griffons for a 31-29 victory.
African neighbours Namibia and Zimbabwe also started the competition on a winning note, as they defeated Griquas and Griquas Rural in their clashes respectively.
The clash between Boland and Western Province was thrilling as Boland started very strong early on with two tries in the first seven minutes thanks to their entertaining and effective running rugby. Western Province fought back with intent as they stretched the defence and ran hard at the opposition, which paid off as they scored a try to reduce the deficit. Boland, however, added a penalty goal to take a 10-point lead. But this was short-lived as Western Province added two tries within eight minutes by Daniel Jooste and Gianni Lombard respectively to force their way into a 21-17 half-time lead.
The opening exchanges of the second half were tight with both teams opting for early penalty goals to keep the scoreboard ticking. Western Province, however, found their rhythm as the match progressed, and the flood gates opened as they added three more tries to their tally to secure a rewarding 41-20 victory.
In the final match of the day the Sharks chipped away at Eastern Province throughout the first half and the rewards followed, as they scored three tries and slotted over a penalty to score 18 points. In return, Eastern Province were only able to add a penalty as they battled to make their presence felt on attack.
Eastern Province tightened up their defence and stepped up their attack in the second half, which set them up for a brave comeback against the Sharks. Such was the high quality of their attack they ran in two tries within five minutes shortly after the break, but this was cancelled out by the Sharks as they hit back to touch down for two more tries to stretch their lead to 36 points. Eastern Province, however, fought until the final whistle, which saw them score their third try of the match on the stroke of full-time to go down 36-24.
The Griffons and Pumas, meanwhile, were involved in a tight tussle in which both teams gave everything to get onto the front foot. The Pumas opened up the scoring with back-to-back penalties, but two tries to one by the Griffons, handed the Mpumalanga side a narrow 16-12 lead at the break. The second half was equally tight as each team added two tries to their tally, which saw the Griffons trail 29-31 in the dying seconds of the half. The Welkom side, however, were awarded a late penalty and opted to kick for posts, but the unsuccessful attempt forced them to settle for the two-point defeat.
In the opening matches of the day, Namibia cruised to a 35-3 half-time lead against Griquas CD, which set them up for a confidence-boosting 54-36 victory, and Zimbabwe broke through for a try on the stroke of full-time to snatch a 16-9 victory against Griquas Rural.
In the main games in the Academy Week, hosts, the Sharks bounced back from a 24-21 half-time deficit against the Griffons to win 47-44 in a match in which 14 tries were scored, including three by Jacques Conradie, while Western Province outscored SWD seven tries to none for an emphatic 47-0 victory. No 8 Franke Horn scored three of those.
The Bidvest Golden Lions, meanwhile, dominated their clash against the Pumas from the outset and did well to convert their chances into points, which earned them a 30-11 victory.
In the other matches, the SA LSEN (Learners with Special Education Needs) team registered a 15-0 victory against the Blue Valke, while Griffons Country Districts pipped Eastern Province Country Districts 19-15 and Border overcame Griquas Rural 28-13.
The tournaments will continue on Tuesday, with the Limpopo Blue Bulls taking on Border CD in the opening match of the day in the Craven Week at 09:35, while Sharks Country Districts and Griquas will meet in the opening match of the Academy Week at 09:55.
The main games in the Craven Week will see the Blue Bulls being pitted against Border, SWD meeting the Golden Lions and the Free State going up against the Valke.
The top match-ups in the Coca-Cola Academy Week, meanwhile, will see the Blue Bulls going up against Eastern Province and the Free State lining up against Boland.