A try in the last minute of play by Border Ladies centre Asisipho Plaatjies handed her team a dramatic back-to-back SA Rugby Women’s Premier Division title against DHL Western Province on Saturday, with the Eastern Cape side edging their Cape arch rivals 19-16 at Hamilton Rugby Club in Green Point, Cape Town, on Saturday afternoon.
Up until that very minute the home side, who took the lead after 48 minutes of play, looked set to take back the national title they lost to Border last year, but a stunning run from 40 meters out by Plaatjies secured the double for Border Ladies, who also won the title at DHL Newlands Stadium in 2021.
It was a match fitting of a final in the premier event of the domestic game for women’s rugby. Border, who held a slender 12-8 lead at the break, only have themselves to blame for such a nail-biter in the end. They dominated the first half hour of the match, with their pack of forwards laying a solid foundation and supplying their willing backline more than enough space and ball to have a go.
Tries by midfielder Aphiwe Ngwevu and wing Unathi Mali was proof of that early dominance while the home side, who defended very well despite the onslaught, could only reply via a penalty goal by flyhalf Kirsten Conrad.
Despite their early dominance on attack, Border did not show enough patience in building phases and their game management also let them down in the latter half of the first stanza. Twice they opted for not going for poles from penalties, but instead tried to barge over from short range. Both these efforts delivered nothing, while they were also guilty of handling errors when on attack.
The home side, on the other hand, were much more clinical on attack and that almost won them the match. After finally getting some hands on the ball in the last ten minutes of the half, winger Donelle Snyders scored in the corner after a pin-point cross-kick by Conrad.
That try and the 12-8 score line at the break almost made a mockery of all the possession and territory Border enjoyed during the first half. The second half was all Western Province, until that dramatic finish which tilted the game in Border’s favour.
Border were put under pressure from the restart and although they managed to snuff out the first wave of attacks from the home side, it was just a matter of time before their defensive wall was breached. Prop Babalwa Latsha drove over from close quarters for the second WP try, and the home side suddenly had the lead for the first time in the match after 48 minutes of play.
That forced Border into more cohesion again, but their industrious No 8 and captain, Lusanda Dumke, was guilty of trying to do too much on her own, resulting in WP isolating her and getting vital turnovers. Conrad extended the score with a penalty to 16-12 in the 65th minute as Border grew more desperate.
The home team was starting to take control of the match, resulting in even more penalties conceded by Border. Conrad hit the upright and pushed another effort to the right as DHL WP looked for the knock-out punch in a constructive way.
That punch came from Border though, as Springbok Women’s Sevens player Plaatjies – in a last gasp attack from the defending champions – ran onto a beautiful pass from prop Asithandile Ntoyanto, giving her just enough space to slice through the WP defence and crossing the try line with a lovely swan-dive for the match-winning try.
Eloise Webb used the remaining time on the clock to set up and kick the conversion, which was the last play of the match.
Afterwards, an ecstatic Dumke said they wanted people to take notice of the Border Ladies rugby team.
“Many did not give us a chance in this game, but we knew what we had inside of us. We had a lot of fight and pride,” she said after the final whistle.
“We want to thank WP, they really gave us a great game, especially in that second half. We expected nothing less, they are a great team and that makes beating them even more special. Not everyone believed we could win this, but we have showed what a team we are when the chips are down.”
DHL WP 16 (8) – Tries: Donelle Snyders, Babalwa Latsha. Penalty Goals: Kirsten Conrad (2).
Border Ladies 19 (12) – Tries: Aphiwe Ngwevu, Unathi Mali, Asisipho Plaatjies. Conversions: Eloise Webb (2).