East London Police players, Thando Ndondo (left) and Sokhana Mkona (right), celebrating their team’s impressive win over Gardens to lift the EC Super 12 trophy
East London Police savored their greatest triumph in their historic 20-15 victory over Gardens in an epic Eastern Cape Super 12 Championship final played at Police Park in East London. It captivated an electric atmosphere around the ground, left hundreds jumping for joy whilst others where left in disbelief and clearly distraught with the end result. It was a final of “firsts”…first final in East London, first time that a Border team was in the final and a first time that in Police, a Border team have won it.
Police, led by man of the match and skipper Bonga Mntunjani were brutal upfront and dominated the exchanges. The foundation for the victory was laid upfront which left the backline with quality ball for attacking options. The Bobbies pitched up at their Police Park fortress on Saturday and played the match of their lives. Big players stand out in big matches and the Bobbies faithful had nowhere else to look but to their captain fantastic. ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man”…Bonga enhanced his credentials and class and lead his troops with flying colors.
Police game plan was spot on. They slowed the game down and did not allow Gardens to dictate matters. They also dissected their opponents skilfully and with sheer precision. Gardens are one of the deadliest offensive teams in the Province and can cause havoc to any defense if you give them space and ball in hand. Their back-line has pace aplenty with their loose trio doing good work at the breakdown point and around the fringes. But on Saturday Police stood firm and only looked shaky in the last third of each half when Gardens inserted more pressure to their defensive lines.
The game had all the ingredients that one would have expected from a finale, with both teams giving it their all. Emotions reached fever pitch on and off the pitch. Gardens were well supported by their green army of spectators. As for all big games a ref with a big heart was needed. Bulelani Naka was given the huge task of officiating probably the biggest club rugby game in the region. With all the tension, tempo of the game and emotions flying around, the ref kept his cool under pressure and carried on with the job at hand.
It was all Police in the opening stanza as Mntunjani crashed over for the games opening try. Tebogo Makuru made no mistake with the conversion as Police lead 7-0. Lobs Ntlama increased Police lead with an unconverted try. Gardens bounced back with a penalty By Maraki Maart. A Gardens try cut the deficit to 2 points as the side went into the break with Police leading 12-10. The second half was tense with both sides going full steam at each other. Socks Mkhona increased Police lead with a well executed unconverted try. Makuru stretched Police lead further with a penalty. Just to spice things up in the final minutes of the game, Gardens hit back with a try by Ruvert Louw to bring them within touching distance of Police. Police resolute defence held firm until the final whistle to bring joy and celebration to their faithful.
Forget past results, forget what happened with the build-up to the final with venue dissatisfaction as Gardens felt that the final should be Uitenhage…this was a game changer. Police win did the region a world of good and will definitely change the mindset and perception that Border teams are not good enough. It has enhanced the image of the game in general. The euphoria and elation during and after the match was out of this world. The passion in which Gardens supporters show is something special. Both teams brought their A game to the final, with Police just having the edge and BMT. Police coach Anton Jacobs was a happy man and said, “We worked hard for this victory and continued where we left off last year. It was a collective effort and our players were discipline and did not skip training. We had clear targets to which the guys responded well by giving 100% in performance. We also have good cover and depth in our squad which was very important to carry us through and to our success. We have a vision of winning three cups this season and already we are on par in achieving that. We had a clear plan in neutralizing Gardens in this match and it worked wonderfully”.
After the dust had settled and each of the 12 teams doing self-diagnoses it must be truly said that this competition has grown from strength to strength. Border teams have closed the gap to their EP counterparts. WSU All Blacks have surprised all and sundry with their performances this season. As all champion teams do, Gardens will bounce back. Allan Maarman and his team are too good of a side to let this set-back bring them down. Both sides have to be applauded and gave East London people a thrilling finale. We salute the champions…Bobbies stand up and be counted!!
By: Maxwell Levine