2016 In Review : Eagles Managing Well…For Now

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Quality Quaggas !  Inside centre JP Duvenage (in possession) and no. 8 Lance Lamprecht
(right) were the stand-out players for Outeniqua this winter. (photo: Gavin Falck)

There is an ominous similarity between this year’s review of the state of schoolboy rugby in the idyllic South Western Cape and last year’s reflections.

As was the case last year the Craven Week side won two out of three games, showing a remarkable turnabout in fortunes.  After losing heavily to the Golden Lions (26-59), they edged past Border (21-19) and cleaned the floor with Easter Province (64-12).

Unfortunately, one suspects, this says considerably more about the parlous state of the schoolboy game in the Eastern Cape than it does about the quality available to the Eagles. 

In addition, the other main point raised in the 2015 piece – the widening gap between the quality available to the top sides and the rest – concerns the depth, or rather dearth, of talent in the hub of the Garden Route.

Oakdale are firmly on top the ratings with a 15-4 win ratio, their superiority clearly shown by their having eighteen players selected for the two Under 18 provincial sides, no fewer than twelve of them in the Craven Week team.  

Even more significant than the Bulls having nine players in the flagship team’s starting line-up is that six of them were in the backline, traditionally the preserve of the slippery Outeniqua three-quarters.

Exciting full-back Darren Adonis, experienced right wing Alexander Wallace and centre Nicolus van Eeden were obvious choices for the premier selection, but half-backs Zinedine Booysen and Xavier Swartbooi and centre Jay-Cee Nel pitched up out of relative obscurity.

Powerful props André Posthumus and Dian Bleuler announced their presence with sterling performances for the Riversdale outfit and Nicolai Weber and Marko van der Merwe, the latter in the Academy Week team, cemented a daunting front row. 

With second-rowers Daniel Victor and Jaco Smith featuring on the bench and mobile demolition unit WP van Heerden captaining the Eagles from the back of the scrum, you can see for yourself that the opportunities for arch-rivals Outeniqua were very limited indeed.

The shape of the Bulls’ season followed what has become a predictable annual trend. 

They left the starting blocks like Wayde van Niekerk, winning their first ten games – the first against Argentinians Cordoba at Paul Roos, the next six at their own and the Desert Festival in Walvis Bay, after which they saw off HTS Daniel Pienaar, HTS Drostdy and the SARU XV on day one at Wildeklawer.

Then reality reared its head as, despite an heroic effort, they lost 23-48 to Grey College.  Even so, that looked like nothing more than a blip when they downed highly-rated Paul Roos, local minnows Langenhoven Gym and traditional foes Outeniqua, the lattermost in convincing style 22-3.

However, when you run up a mountain, the going gets a bit tougher the higher you get and the first week of June saw them lose with credit to the outrageously talented Paarl Boys’ High team, 21-35.  The holidays – and, for many, a trip to Kearsney – didn’t help that much as they were trounced 41-19 at home by Paarl Gym in July.

All they had to prepare themselves for ahead of the interschools against Boland Landbou were undemanding home fixtures against Marlow and Framesby, both of whom were soundly beaten, 50-12 and 31-21 respectively.  And so they came down to Windmeul where they lost a thriller, 22-27, a fitting climax to a very satisfactory season.

That several players – Adonis, Nel and, towards the end, Pietie Uys – shared the tee work is cause for some satisfaction in itself.  The foremost was their leading scorer with 102 points, while Van Eeden (10), Booysen (9), Wallace, Van Heerden, Wallace and Posthumus (7 each) were the most frequent visitors to opponents’ trylines.

Most importantly, the side played attractive rugby in their trademark style, running in 84 tries in the process, proof positive that the provincial selectors got it right with their choice of backs. 

Outeniqua may well have only lost one more game than Oakdale, but their 10-5 record was far more of an up-and-down affair.  On top of that, only fifteen players gained provincial selection, their fairly even distribution through the two sides hinting strongly at a lack of noteworthy strength in any part of the team’s make-up.

Backs Darryle Kameel, Damian Bonaparte and Bradley Kiewitz made the Craven Week squad, while, up front, no. 8 Lance Lamprecht, flank Byron Booysen, lock Louis Meiring, prop Franco Boshoff and hooker Sean Swart got the nod.  Seven Quaggas also graced the Academy Week team. 

The campaign began with a comprehensive 69-5 home victory over what proved to be a pretty ordinary Tygerberg side, followed by a lacklustre 19-3 win at Brackenfell.

At the North-South event in Pretoria, they fell at the first hurdle, 24-35 to Garsfontein, and a pattern started to emerge as they beat Waterkloof 10-3, before returning to the Cape where they suffered a 27-29 home defeat to Paarl Boys’ High, but recorded a 17-8 away success against HTS Drostdy.

At Wildeklawer they were given a 34-7 hiding by Affies, but bounced back two days later to dispatch Monnas 40-25.  Oudtshoorn were brushed aside 50-7 and Stellenberg made the Quaggas work hard for their 34-27 win, before the 22-3 disappointment in the regional showdown against Oakdale, for which the 96-0 annihilation of Langenhoven Gym – a fixture I must confess to having overlooked, but which has now been included – a week later came as scant consolation.

Two months passed before their last three matches, which brought success against Framesby (50-17) at home and Die Brandwag (42-10) in Uitenhage and a plucky 42-59 defeat at Paarl Gym.

Significantly, the go-to man proved to be inside centre JP Duvenage, who was ineligible for the provincial sides. 

After a rather average 2015, he reprised his sublime form of 2014 with some outstanding performances, the most memorable of which came towards the back end of the campaign: 30 points in the Framesby game (his fiftieth 1st XV appearance) and an imperious display against Paarl Gym in the final fixture.

While Duvenage’s 202 points included 15 tries, of all the other players only Lamprecht (thirteen tries) managed to pass the six-try mark.

Apart from Duvenage, scrumhalf Ashwill Galant and possibly full-back Tristan Fourie, the composition of the backline tended to be constructed in a reactive rather than a proactive way.

The blame doesn’t lie with the coaches, who boast more than enough experience to disabuse anyone of that accusation. 

In short, there was no-one who could fill the key role of the unpredictable gamebreaker in the manner of past superstars like Dewald Human, Warrick Gelant, Sylvian Mahuza, Manie Libbok or Leighton Eksteen. 

Even though Kameel eventually settled in at flyhalf and Kiewitz, at outside centre, the impression remained that they – along with Bonaparte – were ultimately jacks of all trades, not masters of one.

The bottom line was that if Duvenage and Lamprecht fired on all eight cylinders, all was well; if not, things weren’t quite so rosy.

Which brings us to the stumbling block. 

While In the WP it is said that you need to have the four southern suburbs sides to be competitive for the province as a whole to flourish, in the SWD success only requires two sides to pull their weight. 

Oakdale generally continue to look the part, but the abject performances of Outeniqua’s junior sides at Paarl Gym (Seccies and Chippies both lost by 50 points; the U16As, by 95) do not bode well for either the Quaggas’ or, more importantly, the Eagles’ immediate future. 

It was only at U14A level, where the visitors, who went unbeaten throughout the winter, won narrowly that there was some light at the end of the tunnel.

A frank conversation with two of their senior coaches emphasized several points which most people have suspected for a long time.

Firstly, with the Southern Cape, as a rule, not producing anything like enough rugby players capable of holding their own at national level, the school has always had to turn to recruitment to bolster its ranks.

Secondly, with the continuing rise of professionalism, the battle to secure young talent has become much more competitive to the point that, finding their services in great demand, skilled youngsters are unsurprisingly being lured to what they perceive to be greener pastures than George.

Thirdly, with money being extremely tight these days, it is increasingly difficult for schools to finance teams like the Quaggas, who are forever forced to travel long distances in search of quality opposition.

Result: the picture is, at best, pretty gloomy.

Oudtshoorn’s 11-5 record was punctuated by four large margins, defeats by Framesby (44-0) and Outeniqua (50-7) and victories against lesser lights PW Botha (44-13) and George (50-5).

In between came a variety of results, generally positive (3/3 at TSRF, against Klein Nederburg, Swartland and Worcester Gym; 16-10 vs Hugenote and 31-24 vs DF Malan), but with minor setbacks at the hands of Pearson (14-18), Marlow (8-25) and Die Brandwag (9-18).

Scrumhalf Larry Paulse (100 points) and prop Robin West (9 tries) were by far the most generous contributors to the team’s cause.

Two of the Struisies’ happier encounters were against fellow SWD medium-rangers Langenhoven Gym and Punt, both of whom experienced distinctly forgettable campaigns. 

Punt (3-8 win ratio) managed to beat Worcester Gym (7-3) and arch-rivals Langenhoven Gym (12-8), but the Gym Lions (3-12 ratio) finished their Oakdale Festival jaunt with a 6-3 win over Upington, trounced Schoonspruit 22-5 at the K2 Festival and beat locals Bridgton 17-7.

They do, however, deserve some kudos for being prepared to face Outeniqua on equal terms whereas Punt settled for staggered fixtures (1sts against 2nds, A sides vs B sides, and so on) against the Quaggas.

Not much to get excited about there or with the smaller teams in the area.

Langenhoven High (9-8) were as average as the ratio suggests; York paid for two successful years with a mediocre 5-1-7 return.

The Dasse can at least be proud of the efforts of flyhalf Byron Esau (110 points), lock Allister Miggels (a remarkable fourteen tries) and wing Tyronne de Ponte (eight five-pointers).

In conclusion, allow me to refer back to the first and second points above regarding the quandary in which Outeniqua find themselves.

Spare a thought for their nearest neighbours – those schools discussed in the intervening paragraphs – the frustrated institutions who are forced to make do with what is left after an equally frustrated Outeniqua has systematically, with a degree of desperation, drained them of any talent they might once have had.   

There are very few winners in the long run.

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