Paar­wa­ter praises WP U21s’ spirit in turn­ing sea­son around

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE DE BUYN

WESTERN PROVINCE’S Un­der- 21 rugby team have lifted the na­tional ti­tle af­ter floor­ing the Blue Bulls in the fi­nal in Dur­ban.

The side coached by Jerome Paar­wa­ter beat the young men from Pre­to­ria 48-41 to col­lect the tro­phy.

Paar­wa­ter, who is cur­rently in Hong Kong with the Kenyan na­tional team, is a happy man as a re­sult of the suc­cess.

“We had a great pre-sea­son … so it was a bit of a shock for the boys when they opened their SA Cham­pi­onship cam­paign on a los­ing note at home to the Bulls, and then in the sec­ond home fix­ture again lost.

“It meant we could ill-af­ford be­ing beaten again in the re­main­ing four games, but we did just that to get us home in third place in the six-team stand­ings, with the Bulls top­ping it and the Golden Lions next best.

“With­out doubt the side got bet­ter as the sea­son pro­gressed and I was con­fi­dent about mak­ing a fi­nal ap­pear­ance again.

“For that to hap­pen would mean us hav­ing to beat the Lions in an away semi-fi­nal, a tough ask when fac­tor­ing in the al­ti­tude in Gaut­eng.

“Our hosts had us on the ropes but we hung in there and man­aged to turn things round in the sec­ond half, then scored and con­verted a try with a cou­ple of min­utes left on the clock to snatch a 37-36 vic­tory and qual­ify for a fi­nal for the sixth year in a row.

“In Dur­ban, against a Bulls side that had flat­tened Free State in their last-four clash, we pro­duced a solid per­for­mance at Kings Park to win 48-41 against ri­vals who up un­til that point were un­beaten.

“Credit to the boys and the back-up staff for all their ef­forts.

“For me, coach­ing at this level brings plenty of re­wards; guid­ing the fortunes of the province’s most tal­ented play- ers and watch­ing them grow is spe­cial.”

As for the WP U-19s, to have won 11 of 12 pool games to top the ta­ble ahead of the knock­out rounds was a bril­liant ef­fort. Not so when it came to the semi-fi­nals. Fac­ing Free State, who they had beaten com­fort­ably on two pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, one would have pre­dicted coach Nazeem Adams and his charges would walk this one on their home ground at New­lands. But it never panned out that way, as the vis­i­tors from Bloem­fontein hit the ground run­ning and never looked back on their way to a 32-25 vic­tory.

Free State took on the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, the Golden Lions, in the fi­nal and lost 55-24.

“We let our­selves down,” said Adams of Province’s semi-fi­nal de­feat. “I’m not sure what went wrong. We came out of the blocks slowly and paid the price. The boys know they let them­selves down ... but still it was a good sea­son.”

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