The second game in the Cayman Challenge Cup took place on Saturday with the North taking on the South in a much anticipated clash of the hemispheres.
With both teams boasting strong line-ups, the game was expected to be much closer than the previous weekend when the North claimed a 51-12 win over the Cayman Under 20 side.
The South won the toss and elected to receive and launched a powerful attack from the moment they had the ball in their possession.
In spite of repeated drives by the South’s forwards, the North’s defence held up well. An eventually turnover resulted, and a big clearing kick gave the North some breathing room.
This was to prove a scene often repeated, with Stuart McMillan doing stellar work for the North, finding touch with unerring accuracy and driving the South well back into their own half time and time again.
The teams were also well matched in the set phases, with the two packs very evenly matched in the scrums.
The North seemed to have a slight edge in the line-outs though, where the South struggled to get clean possession.
With rock solid defence by both teams there were very few opportunities available and the game seemed set to remain in a stalemate until a mistake by either team opened up a gap.
The South kicked for touch from a penalty, taking play up in to the North’s 22.
From the lineout the South managed to move ever closer to the North’s line and an unfortunate knock-on by the North gave the South a five yard scrum.
Unsurprisingly it was one of the South’s standout players, Chris Bunce, who managed to run in a try for the South, putting the first points of the day on the board.
Sam Sage was unable to convert, leading in a bad day for the kickers, as neither team managed to score any points through conversions or penalties.
At the end of the first quarter the score was at 5-0, with all indications that the South would extend their lead.
Yet the beginning of the second quarter saw the South make a critical error as they failed to find touch from a penalty in their own 22.
The ball ended up in the hands of Keswick Wright, who sliced through the South’s defence as he stepped his way from one side of the field to the other untouched.
When eventually he was collared he passed the ball to Pete Harris, who managed to advance closer to the South’s line, before passing back to Wright who finished off a move he had begun by putting the North on the scoreboard.
McMillan was unable to convert, leaving the score tied at 5-5.
With tight defence making any meaningful running virtually impossible players became frustrated and tempers flared, with three yellow cards being shown in the second quarter.
The North were awarded a number of penalties within kicking range, but neither McMillan nor Ed Hayward could find the mark. Thus at the end of the first half the score remained tied at 5-5.
Fortunately the second half saw no further cardings, although the play was still as hard as ever.
The North seemed to gain the upper hand in the scrums, as the managed to wheel the South’s scrums a number of times. Both teams had a number of tries disallowed, whether for forward passes or the ball being held up over the line.
However, there were few scoring opportunities and in spite of some excellent driving work by the North’s forwards, including Peter de Vere, neither team could make the vital breakthrough.
At the final whistle, the teams were still locked at five points apiece, resulting in a rare draw.
The result puts the North in a very good position for overall tournament honours, as the Under 20 side can no longer match their points total in their one remaining game.
The South could theoretically still take the title, but to do so they will have to beat the Under 20 side by at least 40 points in order to have a better points difference than the North.
This may well be a tough ask, as the Under 20 side will have the services of a number of overseas-based players returning to the fold.
Although the Under 20 side struggled in the scrums in their first game they dominated the line-outs, which does not bode well for the South who already struggled against the North. The South should however be better off in the scrums that they were against the North.
The final clash in the Cayman Challenge Cup promises to be a humdinger, as the Cayman Under 20 team fights for honour and the South challenging for the overall title. The game will kick off at 4pm tomorrow at the Rugby Club on South Sound.