The old boys of KES will have reason to smile after this weekend. Their beloved cardinal red jersey seems to be in good hands this season.
The King Edward VII rugby 1XV, known in schoolboy rugby circles as the Reds, in their first match of the season, ran out convincing 31-0 winners over Pretoria Boys High School on the Reds Field in Houghton on Saturday.
KES has produced its share of rugby stars in recent years, with world cup winger Bryan Habana, Springbok hookers Malcolm Marx and Scarra Ntubeni, and Lions stars Cyle Brink and Dylan Smith only a few of the many great rugby players that have played their schoolboy rugby at KES since it started playing rugby there in 1932.
They have a lot to be confident about. Four of their star players were part of that winning Golden Lions U16 team in 2015 and all four were included in the recent SARU U18 elite players camp in Wellington.
Look out for the captain and head prefect Travis Gordon, who is back after missing most of last year’s season due to injury, and will be eager to show why he was such a tough customer at the Grant Khomo two years ago. Gordon could be in the running for SA Schools selection this year, joining Keagan Glade who already represented the SA Schools A-side in 2016.
Glade and fullback Kennedy Mpeku represented the Golden Lions in the Craven Week last year, and Yanga Hlalu represented the Golden Lions at the 2016 Academy Week. All four players were included in the starting lineup against Pretoria Boys High on Saturday.
Then there are the much talked about twins, the Mpeku brothers, to keep an eye on, with Kevin in the midfield and Kennedy out back.
Pretoria Boys High was founded in 1901 and has produced Springbok greats like John Smit and current Sharks hooker Chilliboy Ralepellein recent years.
The results for the two weeks before the match saw Pretoria Boys High losing narrowly by 8-10 to Noordheuwel of Johannesburg, after beating Oos Moot of Pretoria by 25-20.
The first half saw an arm wrestle for control of the match, where bone-rattling defence from 8th man Travis Gordon and tough as nails hooker Dylan Whitcombe set the tone.
Up front, the scrum, spearheaded by SA Schools "A" side tighthead prop Keagan Glade and debutant loosehead Jason Cloete gained early dominance that ultimately resulted in 3 heels against the head for the Johannesburg side.
In the lineouts, Gordon also pilfered a number of opposition throws.
Outside centre Kevin Mpeku took advantage of the possession when it did come and lit up the right hand touchline in front of the school boys, as he ran in a great solo effort to open the scoring. Whilst the conversion was missed, Golden Lions Craven week hopeful, exciting fullback Kennedy Mpeku, stroked over two more long distance penalties and the Reds went into the half time break with an 11-point lead.
The Reds having done the hard yards in defence in the first half, switched to higher gears in the 2nd half and their dangerous backline, led by the composed SA U18 training squad centre Yanga Hlalu, started making inroads.
Another penalty got the scoreboard ticking over, though before Grade 11 right winger Cade Robertson went over for a brace, his second the try of the day when Whitcombe and Gordon showed their soft skills with consecutive ‘Sonny-Bill’ offloads in contact to set up the score.
As expected Pretoria Boys High refused to lie down, due to good leadership by Chris Du Toit. A scintillating break through midfield should have resulted in a try but for Kevin Mpeku who showed his determination to reel in the breakaway.
Sport can reward effort quickly and so it was, as Kevin Mpeku rounded off the scoring on the day with the final try.
Boys High was brave in defeat and suffered injury setbacks to the imposing blind sider Kagiso Woodbridge and their scrumhalf Brandon Lamon, whose bravery in contact was admirable. Hats off to Mpho Kubheka who switched from right wing to half back and put in a nuggety and enterprising shift.
For the newly installed Reds coaching duo of head coach Nkosi and coach Estherhuizen, it was more relief than joy, but a good start to a very promising season nonetheless for the Reds.
As for Pretoria Boys High, their highly-rated Director of Rugby, RudiDames’ positive influence can already be seen and despite the injury disruptions, there were positive signs that this side will improve as the season goes on.
Never once did their heads drop and they showed glimpses of the true fighting spirit which has built the Pretoria outfit into a respected rugby brand up north.
Both teams will be in playing in the action-packed Easter Rugby Festivals.
KES will face Wynberg on 13 April in the KES Easter Rugby Festival, whilst Pretoria Boys High travel down to theKearsney Easter Rugby Festival to face Queen’s College on 13 April 2017.
Full Results (KES mentioned first):
1st won 31-0
2nd won 15-8
3rds won 22-19
4ths won 17-5
5ths lost 0-22
6ths lost 0-24
7ths lost 12-45
8ths lost 7-36
16A lost 26-27
16B won 22-10
16C won 17-0
16D won 40-0
16E won 26-19
15A won 12-8
15B won 43-0
15C won 78-0
15D won 47-7
15E won 17-0
14A won 56-7
14B won 26-0
14C won 17-5
14D won 31-0
14E won 39-0
14F won 10-0
(Photo Credit: Cliff Lamberton)