QWAQWA — Lesotho’s rugby team fell just short of downing Goliath on Saturday, going down 24-15 to QwaQwa in their first game.
Despite the result, it was the fight Lesotho put up against their much more experienced opposition that grabbed the headlines.
Lesotho’s team was only formed six months ago and on Saturday morning a 24-strong group left in a five-car convoy bound for QwaQwa.
The match represented a fantastic achievement for Lesotho rugby.
Over half of the starting 15 were playing their first competitive rugby match.
The team itself was only able to train on a basketball court at the Lehakoe Club.
Yet somehow, without equipment, kit, sponsorship or facilities, they amassed enough enthusiasm to not only undertake the six-hour round trip, but demonstrate to the Eastern Free State they were serious about the game of rugby.
The start to the game wasn’t the best though.
From the onset Lesotho’s inexperience showed and a defensive miscommunication allowed QwaQwa to breeze through for a try under the posts untouched to open the scoring.
Lesotho tried to stem the tide by taking advantage of a stronger pack and overturned a number of QwaQwa scrums while good carries by front-row Fetang Selialia and fly-half Ian Brooke saw the visitors moving up the pitch.
However a handling error led to the home side’s second try, and a 14-0 lead.
At this point the floodgates were threatening to open.
To their credit the travellers did not crumble but instead improved their defensive game.
A tight defensive line and some huge hits by both the pack and backline meant QwaQwa were kept at bay for the remainder of the half — although they were unlucky to have a try disallowed for a forward pass.
Lesotho came out on the attack after half-time and good work by the forwards gave Motšoane Motlhoka time and space to send over a drop goal and get the team on the scoreboard.
But the home side’s superior skills, particularly the handling along the backline eventually created enough space for the QwaQwa fly half to collect his second of the match following a dazzling run through a bemused Lesotho backline.
However moments later a second try was disallowed for a knock on.
Lesotho refused to give up and some big carries from Lesotho forwards Rethabile Sekola and Lititso put QwaQwa on the backfoot.
Finally, after good defensive pressure and better organisation from the Lesotho back line, the ball popped up for Lesotho captain Dan Aylward to pluck from the air and race down the wing from halfway, diving over the try line just before the Qwaqwa covering defence caught up with him for Lesotho’s first try.
The final quarter saw both sides throwing in some huge hits and the fatigue was evident when Lesotho’s defensive line was too slow to realign and the QwaQwa forwards crashed over the line for their fourth try.
But Lesotho had travelled a long way and were determined to leave their mark on the game. Quick penalties saw them gain territorial advantage and a high tackle gave Lesotho a penalty five metres from the line.
This was again taken quickly and the large pack kept rolling forward, the momentum now with them.
One metre short, the formidable Dennis Labuschange bore down on the QwaQwa line before offloading to Sekola who finished off an impressive personal and team performance with Lesotho’s second try which Khauhelo Raphepheng converted brilliantly with the last kick of the game.
Lesotho left the field with their heads held high.
Despite losing they surpassed all expectations for a team containing so many beginner players.
“QwaQwa were technically superior upfront and had far better handling throughout the game.
“Lesotho will have to learn lessons from a game that had too many missed tackles, moments of confusion and at times a lack of support for the man with the ball.
“We are immensely proud of the heart and courage we showed on Saturday. Each one of us answered the challenge and stepped up when called upon,” Alyward said.
“There were some fantastic individual performances, with Diego Garcia notably keeping the pack disciplined at scrum-half in a game it was hard to believe was his first,” he said.
“But man-of-the-match praises went jointly to Brooke and Sekola, who between them accumulated a heroic number of yards and helped alleviate the pressure on Lesotho’s try line with nothing getting past them,” he said.