Gym Host Landbou On Opening Day

Choice Shots 9 Whk H v Oak

Don’t keep me waiting, manne !  Oakdale scrumhalf Zinedine Booysen (left) prepares to clear a maul in
Saturday’s 27-6 win against Windhoek High in Walvis Bay. (photo courtesy of Timeline Photos)

After watching their favourite teams navigating the sometimes treacherous rip tides and cross currents of the various March holiday festivals, the schoolboy rugby fraternity cab finally look forward to the opening day of the 2016 season on Saturday 9 April 2016.

While most of the big Western Cape sides enjoyed a high degree of success, in places as diverse as the Northvaal region, Namibia and even Ireland, few would disagree that beating one’s traditional local opposition is what counts in the long run, providing the fuel for bragging rights that will be maintained until the 2017 season.

Such is the nature of the fixture list down south that spectators are virtually guaranteed at least two major attractions every weekend and opening day doesn’t disappoint.

So, where will you go to get your first rush of adrenalin ?  Here are the clashes that form the tip of a very large iceberg of matches at all age-group levels.

Paarl Gym hosts Boland Landbou, Grey High School travels to the Markotter to play Paul Roos, Rondebosch welcomes Wynberg, Outeniqua lies in wait for Paarl Boys’ High and Oakdale takes on HTS Daniel Pienaar of Uitenhage at Fortress Populierbos in Riversdale. 

In recent years Paarl Gym have represented something of a bogey team to Landbou, the 49-7 hiding the Noorder-Paarl lads inflicted on the shell-shocked hosts Farmers out at Windmeul in 2013 still looming large in the collective memory.

Oloff Bergh’s charges have proved to be a well-balanced unit in the early stages of this season, although their 3/3 record doesn’t contain any massive scalps. 

The impressive aspect of their play has been a willingness to run and with a backline boasting players of the calibre of Deon Carstens, Janlu Steenkamp, Henlo Marais and exciting newcomers Durin Nasson, Duren Hoffman and Luther McKay, they aren’t likely to change tactics now.

In fact, the highly-rated Carstens has found himself able to concentrate on his duties at the back of the pack, thanks to Hoffman’s sublime form from the kicking tee.

However, for the home side, captain Zak Burger, Theo Boshoff, Wian van Niekerk, Muller du Plessis and Wian van Zyl form the basis of just as slick a unit, if not an even better one.

The packs are also evenly-matched with the Boland front five perhaps holding the slightest of edges.  An interesting duel in this context will be between eighthmen Muller Uys (Gym) and Heinrich Brendel (Landbou), the latter having been given limited game-time ahead of the local programme.

What a match to get the local proceedings under way !

Paul Roos are having to face harsh reality after a star-studded 2015.

While the spirit is as willing as ever, the flesh – at least as far as size up front goes – is the stuff of ordinary mortals this time round.  Despite performing heroically against a huge Monnas team on Holy Saturday, the exertion took its toll, culminating in defeat to Affies on the Monday.

The fast men are as delightful as ever, halfbacks Tiaan Coetzee (or deputy Gerado Jaars) and captain and pivot Damian Willemse pulling the strings at the back where new names like Lyle Hendricks and David-Ley Moses have picked up where Nico Leonard and his accomplices left off.

Ominously, the Grey High side arrives largely without all the advance publicity surrounding last year’s Curwin Bosch launch vehicle.  And yet they walloped Bishops at the Platinum Blues’ own game, running their backs ragged on the way to a 44-0 whitewash. 

Somewhat unheralded, however, does not mean that the fearsome presence of no. 8 Khwezi Mafu should be underestimated.  His performances at the 2015 Craven Week on the very same ground marked him as a truly special player and it’s highly unlikely that he’s been letting his imposing frame go to seed in the intervening months.

The Maroons look likely to be up against it, but their unquenchable spirit and that old Matieland magic are always worth several points.

Rondebosch gave Wynberg a serious bloody nose, 38-19, up at Hawthornden last April, something which should provide the lads from Lovers Walk with more than enough motivation to return the favour on Saturday.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, Gus Leslie and Craig Childs have not merely decided to rely upon the largely-intact 2015 squad, blooding enough new talent to ensure continued success.

This year’s skipper, no. 8 Steve Mathew, has already smelled the grass behind the try-line, as has his loose forward partner of last year, Callum Steyn, and flyhalf Dom Coetzer has certainly not forgotten any of his kicking skills. 

One point of interest is Labib Kannemeyer’s transformation from scrumhalf to outside centre.  This tiny bolt of lightning is bound to test the skills of even the best defensive lines in the province in the months to come.

Being the hosts may count in Bosch’s favour, but that does not alter the fact that they enter the fray a largely unknown force.  Sure, they laid waste to several sides of questionable strength on their trip to Ireland, but their 31-17 win against a Munster Invitation XV aside, those results hardly count as irrefutable evidence of their ability.

That said, one cannot deny that the bagful of tries scored by full-back Mike Mavovana and the rest of the backs did require some skill.  Van der Bijl Blake seems to have slotted in well at first centre alongside flyhalf Sam Cragg to the extent that the midfield can look forward with confidence to the litmus test of local competition.

Returning forwards Matthew Grobler and Garth Shenker will be required to take a firm grip on the young pack, in which much is expected of 2015 Grant Khomo hooker Suhaib Ajmoodien.

The odds may favour the Berg, but home ground advantage could well prove to be the great leveller here.

Last year Paarl Boys’ High sailed through the season without ever really appearing to have to haul out all the stops.  They’ve been pushed twice this year already and are sure to be wary of the Quaggas on their George turf, not traditionally a favourite hunting ground for WP visitors.

The massive presence of captain and SA Schools lock Salmaan Moerat gives them an immediate height advantage, an edge which should be greatly enhanced by the support of experienced loosehead Reece Bezuidenhout and two provincial loose forward predators, Khanya Ncusane and Charl Serdyn.

Outeniqua have boasted big packs in the last few years, but they may find themselves with a (man-)mountain to climb, come Saturday.  Much may depend on no. 8 Lance Lamprecht.

Although the Quaggas’ backs lack a playmaker of the quality of a Manie Libbok, Dewald Human or Leighton Eksteen, they do have the incisive wiles of inside centre JP Duvenage, reportedly approaching his sublime form of 2014.  Nor are Darryle Kameel, Bradley Kiewitz and Damian Bonaparte new to the rigours of the top flight.

They face the considerable threat of livewire playmaker Manny Rass at 13 in the visitors’ back-line, which also features scrumhalf Cameron Dorfling, who cut his teeth at this level last year, evergreen flyhalf Rayhann Lombard, elusive wings Urgene Johannes and Thakir Abrahams and the steadying influence of full-back Gianni Lombard.  

Boishaai may look good for a win, but Outeniqua aren’t going to hand it to them on a platter.

Oakdale were very busy over the March holidays. 

Not only did they play three matches at their own festival, but they also trekked across to Walvis Bay for the annual Desert Festival, where they took their 2016 record to 7/7, recording a hard-fought 12-10 win over Elnatan and slightly more comfortable victories over Windhoek Gym (30-3) and Windhoek High (27-6), the last two being played just fourteen hours apart !

The attacking capability of full-back Darren Adonis is well known, but the rest of the backline isn’t far behind.  Half-backs, Zinedine Booysen and Xavier Swartbooi, are well on the way to forging a strong partnership, which greatly enhances the threat posed by Nicolus van Eeden, Jay-Cee Nel, Alexander Wallace and NJ Simon outside them.

What is more, if Adonis mislays his kicking tee as he did in Walvis Bay, Nel has shown himself more than capable of standing in.

Props André Posthumus and Dian Bleuler have emerged as a potent pairing up front, while returning loose forwards Hanno Olivier and WP van Heerden need no prompting when it comes to the hunt for possession in the rucks and mauls.

HTS Daniel Pienaar’s preparation might not have been quite as demanding – they participated in the Drostdy North-South event in Worcester, but they will tell you that their season traditionally starts every year with the Oakdale game, so they’ll be taking to Populierbos with a clean slate on Saturday.

One can only hope that they will be able to play through the emotional barrier of the traumatic death of teacher Roux Brand on the return trip to Uitenhage after the Drostdy festival.

The Bulls are really going places this year, with the opening of their state-of-the-art gymnasium due to take place on Wednesday 13 April.  This exciting milestone will only serve to heighten the expectations around the home team, who are always up for a challenge.

Strand, who have been highly competitive throughout the last few seasons, test their mettle at home against a HTS Drostdy team who seem to have sorted out most of their glitches at their North-South Festival.

Then there’s the Bellville High Sports Day at which one can get lots of action at one venue, an ideal situation for those neutrals who are still making up their minds whom to support this winter, even if the main course, Bellville vs Tygerberg, doesn’t hold quite the same mystique as in previous years.

The best of the Boland programme takes place on the inland side of the Huguenot Tunnel, where Worcester Gym welcome Swartland. 

Neither side was all that impressive at TSRF 2016 – Gym won their first game 55-0, but went down 10-50 two days later ! – but there are several players in each team who gained selection to the Best of the Fest XV.

Swartland’s no. 8 and captain Charlie Gerber and no. 12 Anton du Toit made the Rockies supporters proud, while the battering ram that is prop Denver Prins and outside centre Julian Lodewyk featured strongly for the Bosvarke.

Lastly, let’s all respect the fact that every single youngster taking the field in every game is intent on giving only his best.  Lots of cheers and no jeers, please !