2016 In Review : Champagne Time In The Winelands !

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It’s going to take more than staples to pin me down !  Paarl Boys’ High and SA Schools
captain Salmaan Moerat prepares to hand off Paarl Gym’s Adriaan Staples (3) during
the 2016 Interschools showdown, won 26-25 by Boishaai.  (photo: Thys Lombard)


Although Paarl Boys’ High’s extension of their unbeaten run to the two-calendar-year mark had everyone scrambling through their dictionaries in search of adjectives to describe their achievements, this was another remarkable winter for all four of the Winelands schools.

Paarl Gym, Boland Landbou and Paul Roos may all have fallen short of the Brug Street brilliance, but each had reason to celebrate successes which were outstanding in their own right.

Frankly, the best way to salute Boishaai’s dominance is probably simply to look at the seventeen more than capable opponents they swept aside on their dream run.

The four-part entrée comprised Porterville Rugby Day fodder Framesby (48-6) and the three St John’s opponents – a Lions XV (54-0), Helpmekaar (24-17) and Nelspruit (17-11) – the last two of whom required a definite shift up through the gears.

The fish course came in the form of Outeniqua (at 29-27 almost an eel), Bishops (58-12), Wynberg (48-7), Wildeklawer wannabes Waterkloof (51-5) and Affies (29-25) and top flight hopefuls Stellenberg (41-3).

Grey College came to southern Paarl as the most meaty dish on offer.  Once the Bloem boys had been dumped 28-18, local rivals Paul Roos (28-3) and Boland Landbou (31-24) were the vegetables accompanying a tasty fillet of Oakdale beef (35-21).

Rondebosch (25-6) and SACS (28-13) provided the custard on the sweetest dessert of all, Paarl Gym, vanquished 26-25 in an epic encounter, after which it was left to HTS Drostdy, sent packing 52-15, to do duty as the coffee and liqueurs. 

In addition to its unbeaten record, the team produced eight Craven Week representatives, each of whom was chosen for the SA Schools team (SAS), surpassing Grey College’s record of six SAS caps, a fitting accolade for a side which also boasted four Academy Week (AW) caps.

Full-back Gianni Lombard (SAS, 249 points, 9t) was the complete article, as capable on the counter-attack as in defence. The attacks hatched by the largely unsung midfield of jack-in-the-box no. 9 Michael Visser (4t), veteran pivot Rayhann Lombaard and inside centre Hanri van Heerden (4t) were clinically finished by wings Thaakir Abrahams (AW, 9t) and Urgene Johannes (AW, 5t), thanks largely to the expert service provided by Mr Offload Manny Rass (SAS) at outside centre.

A hard-as-granite front row saw powerhouse props Adam Neethling (SAS) and Reece Bezuidenhout (SAS) supporting hooker Daniel Jooste (SAS, 5t) or his deputy Wilhelm Barnard (4t).  SA Schools captain Salmaan Moerat and Ewie Loubser locked the scrum, while the loose trio of no. 8 Khanya Ncusane (SAS, 8t), Charl Serdyn (SAS) and Francke Horn (AW, 11t) was relentless.  Plus there was Vian Fourie (AW) in reserve !

Perhaps even more surprising than their huge SA Schools contingent was the provincial selectors’ decision to leave the human wrecking-ball that is Horn in the Academy Week side !  He and Abrahams will doubtless gain higher honours in 2017, their Matric year.

Their approach was consummately professional. While every team plays to win, they did so with astonishing success, but this came at the expense of the exhilarating, running rugby which many would argue epitomises the schoolboy game.  The destination was always paramount; how they got there seemed to become irrelevant.

Seventeen wins in seventeen starts; one might have expected more than just 86 tries. 

Down the Main Road, Paarl Gym (16-2) had what by normal standards would be considered an outstanding season – nine provincial caps – of their own.  Defeat in just their third game both relieved the unspoken pressure and strengthened their resolve and they produced a string of brilliant attacking displays under the astute eye of new backline coach Pieter Rossouw.

After a 52-0 pipe-opener against HTS Drostdy, they thumped Waterkloof (35-10) before slumping 13-15 to Garsfontein at the North-South week.  Back in the Druiwestad, they dealt summarily with Boland Landbou (34-14) and grafted past Paul Roos (28-24) and SACS (17-13) before crushing Menlopark (45-11) and EG Jansen (38-22) at Wildeklawer in Kimberley.

By the end of the second term they had thrashed Wynberg (71-11), Bishops (45-10 and Rondebosch (48-19), although Brackenfell (38-24) provided worthy opposition.

After the mid-year vacation they saw off Oakdale (41-19) and Stellenberg (47-17) without incident, before conceding defeat by one point (25-26) in the Interschools showdown.  Unfazed, they finished the season with a vengeance, dispatching Primrose RFC 117-0, Durbanville (57-10) and plucky Outeniqua (59-42), all in the space of just seven days.

Despite the disappointment of picking up an injury which not only left him sidelined for a long period but also forced to withdraw from the Craven Week shortly after his selection, full-back Wian van Zyl still managed fourteen breathtaking tries with his scything runs.

Partner-in-crime left wing Muller du Plessis (SAS, 7t) wreaked havoc, while on the other flank Ryno Boonzaaier (6t) and Jan Jordaan (4t) also thrived on the steady supply of quality ball from centres Wian van Niekerk (AW, 7t) and Christopher Willemse (9t).

One would struggle to find a better school halfback pairing than bold captain and scrumhalf Zak Burger (AW, 12t) and pivot Theo Boshoff (AW, 252 pts, 12t) anywhere in the country. Having put last year’s injury woes behind him, Burger, as nugget and feisty as they come, and the ghostlike Boshoff complemented each other to perfection.

No. 8 Muller Uys (SAS, 6t) displayed a maturity beyond his years, catching many defences unawares with his speed off the mark.  Flanks Henco Maartens (8t), Janus Swart (4t) and Bryan Buitendag (5t) happily reinforced his fiery presence. 

Any weight that lock Raymond Nel (AW) might have lacked was made up by his gigantic partner, Namibian Adriaan Ludick (5t), who became an extremely efficient battering ram at first receiver towards the end of the campaign.

Up front, tighthead André Booysen (CW, 5t), hooker Sehan du Toit (AW, 8t) and various looseheads – the Staples twins, Adriaan and François, and Daniel Wessels (AW) may not have appeared on the scoresheet, but were by no means mere bit-part players.

Eighteen games, 120 tries, of which Boshoff (84), Van Zyl (6) and substitute Daniël Beukes (3) converted an impressive 78% under the expert supervision of Louis Koen.  Excitement and precision – what a combination !

Although their devoted followers would be pleased with a 13-4 record, Boland Landbou would perhaps be more critical of themselves.  Two of their defeats might have been unexpected, but finally breaking their Markotter jinx should more than make up for that !

Three comfortable wins (32-13 vs Langenhoven Gym at the Paul Roos Day, 69-10 vs Kempton Park and 50-10 vs Menlopark at the North-South event) preceded defeat at the hands of bogey team Paarl Gym (14-34).  Successes against SACS (28-13) and Strand (71-12) were quickly tempered by a 12-17 setback against hosts Diamantvelfd at Wildeklawer, which the team put behind them by beating Waterkloof 30-20 two days later.

The team hit top form on their return to home soil, pounding Rondebosch 48-15, shifting into a lower gear to see off Framesby 31-26 in Port Elizabeth and Stellenberg 34-22 and then demolishing DF Malan 111-5.  In retrospect, the last-mentioned result may have done more harm than good as the Windmeul Warriors fought bravely against mighty Paarl Boys’ High, but still went down 24-31.

After that, the biggest challenge of the third term would definitely have appeared to be Oakdale, even at home, in the season finale.  A convincing performance saw them triumph 47-19 against Bishops at the Piley Rees, but the unforeseen duly happened as Wynberg chose the following week to start an end-of-season spurt, recording a well-deserved 37-34 victory.

Rudely awakened, so to speak, the Farmers saved their best for last, first downing Paul Roos 32-22 on the Markotter, despite a second-half fightback by the Young Maties, and then outlasting the highly-rated Oakdale side 27-22 in a highly-satisfactory finale.

Early attention to the backline ensured that the minor ailments that had plagued this division in recent seasons weren’t repeated and the available talent was soon moulded into the ideal combination to face the challenges of the top-flight game.

From the outset there was very little doubt that Louis Frylinck (7t) would occupy the no.15 berth, a decision that was quickly vindicated as he supplemented his defensive acumen with sharp counter-attacking skills. 

Based on his brilliant form in 2015, the choice of Deon Carstens (CW, 91 points, 8t) at scrumhalf was a no-brainer, but arriving at the optimal permutation of highly-talented youngsters like Janlu Steenkamp, Henlu Marais, Duren Hoffman and Durin Nasson required some experimentation.

Hoffman (142 points, 7t), who proved himself capable of fitting in virtually anywhere in the backline, slotted in ideally at right wing, with Adriaan Stander (10t) the perfect foil on the left. The midfield gelled with devastating results. Outside centre Durin Nasson (18t) and Henlo Marais (CW, 10t) inside him often seemed to penetrate opposition defences at will.  Plus there was the willing Luther McKay (7t) to fill in when the need arose.

Much of this was due to the sublime distribution of pivot Janlu Steenkamp (AW, 81 points, 10t), whose all-round game blossomed to such an extent that he served as first-choice kicker for the Academy Week side while only being third in line on the Farm !

Captain Heinrich Brendel (AW, 7t), Henro Meyer and Athi Magwala (SAA)  patrolled the side of the scrum, while Kevin Reed made the no. 8 jersey his own.  The locks Jandré Maree and Herman le Roux worked like Trojans in the tight exchanges and the front row, consisting of  hooker Heinrich Strumpher and props Christiaan Olivier, Albert Coetzee and Stefan Alberts maintained the high standards expected of the Farmers.

Ultimately, though, the statistic that defines this team were 100 tries they scored, no fewer than 77 of them by the backs.  Heady stuff, indeed !  

Their 11-6 win ratio might have been at best average, but Paul Roos had plenty to be proud of at the end of their 150thanniversary celebrations. 

That major milestone apart, they not only brought a sense of reality to the top flight by reappointing popular long-serving Stef Jordaan to the coaching job, in the process resisting the modern trend to cast a wide net for big names, but also answered some very vocal critics who had questioned their commitment to transformation by fielding a side which at times featured an 8-7 split in favour of players of colour. 

Having defeated Windhoek 67-7 at their Rugby Day, the Maroons dismissed Hilton 67-6 and highly-rated Monument (14-11) at St John’s before falling 17-24 to Affies.  A confident showing (36-21) at home to Grey High was counterbalanced by defeat at Paarl Gym (24-28), but the next four fixtures – against Rondebosch (43-26), HTS Middelburg (31-12), Menlopark (32-5) and Stellenberg (34-8) were all negotiated without too much difficulty.

The three matches prior to the mid-year vacation tested the Young Maties, yet, having lost narrowly at Oakdale (20-23) and heavily at home to Paarl Boys’ High (3-28), they ended on a winning note, grafting their way to a 38-34 success against SACS.

With their focus very much on the upcoming the fixture against Grey College in Bloemfontein, hopes raised by victories against Wynberg (50-5) and Bishops (42-24) were dashed when Boland Landbou held on to beat them 32-22 at the Markotter. 

The controversy surrounding their 32-34 defeat at Grey’s hands tended to hide the fact that, on the balance of play, they should have secured victory long before the final whistle.  On this occasion they definitely missed their three international players.

With two 2015 SA Schools players, full-back Joshua Vermeulen and Damian Willemse, returning, expectations were naturally high, but the team tended to labour a bit when Willemse was unavailable due to his 2016 international duties.

As threatening as ever on the counter, Vermeulen’s 97 points included ten tries, while his occasional deputy, WJ Smit (4t), and wings David-Lee Moses (10t) and Colia Louis (5t) reaped the rewards of the sound midfield pairing of Lyle Hendricks (4t) and Aydon Topley (2t). 

Of course, they were in the enviable position of having half-backs of the quality of sturdy no. 9 Tiaan Coetzee (5t) and the highly-gifted Willemse (138 points, 8t), whose brilliant footwork was matched only by his decision-making, inside them.  The performances of these two players were particularly significant as they were operating behind a relatively small pack.

Despite often finding themselves under pressure on the fringes of the scrum, Hanré du Toit managed to dot down five times, while Bruce Coetzee, Johan Joubert and Josh van der Merwe had to be satisfied with a modest four five-pointers between them.

However, the selection of both locks, Ben-Jason Dixon (SAS, 3t) and Jesse Johnson (SAA, 2t) for national duty – despite their relatively lean frames – speaks volumes about their unrivalled commitment both on the front foot and in defence. When they were unavailable, Phillip van Dyk (3t) and Breyten Maritz proved quite capable replacements.

Hooker Daneel Steinmann (6t) was a force to be reckoned with in the loose, unstintingly supported by props Tristan Leitch (3t) and Cameron Dawson (2t).

Nonetheless, in the same number of matches as Paarl Boys’ High they crossed the line for 85 tries, only one fewer than their unbeaten peers, hardly a cause for dejection ! 

Although these four sides may be a source of envy to many in the national context, they are going to have to pull out all the stops to maintain this status in 2017.  

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