March Holiday Report Card

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Running free.  A Drostdy player sidesteps his way through the Volkskool (Potchefstroom) defence
at the recent North-South Festival in Worcester.  The Donkeys took the laurels 44-0.
(photo courtesy of Brakkies Sport Photos)

All of a sudden the rush – in terms of both time and adrenalin – of the first major crunch period of the schoolboy rugby season is behind us and we find ourselves with a few days in which to contemplate just what that critical fortnight can tell us about the 2016 prospects for the top-tier local sides.

Of course, it is impossible to provide a truly accurate analysis of the various teams’ potential simply because they generally didn’t play against the same opposition. 

Nevertheless, comment from the various camps, all of whom, I might add, were remarkably frank about their sides’ performances, and the marvellous video feed from the St John’s event, provided by that indefatigable friend of South African sport, Dawid van der Sandt, do enable us to make some pertinent observations.

And so, without further ado and in alphabetical order, here are some initial impressions of the main protagonists in our rugby drama.

Bishops started off with a steady if unspectacular 27-17 win in their big derby at home to St Andrew’s of Grahamstown.  However, what was striking was the apparent lack of a reliable kicker: only one of the five tries was converted.

It was perhaps mildly ironic then that it took a penalty – not normally Bishops’ scoring method of choice – to defeat Durban High School 27-24 in their first game at St Stithian’s.

Nothing could have prepared observers countrywide for the implosion that took place in the early second half against a polished Grey High side.  Down by a handful of points at the change-over, a rash of errors on the Cape Town outfit’s part handed the Port Elizabeth boys the initiative, one which they duly exploited to run out deserved victors by a massive 44-0 margin.

A 20-20 draw with Westville might have provided some respite for the troops, but, once again, those points ominously came from four unconverted tries.

It looks like being a tough winter for the relatively small Platinum Blues side.

Boland Landbou glided happily along, building on their 32-13 Paul Roos Day success against Langenhoven Gym with comfortable victories over Kempton Park (69-10) and Menlopark (50-10) and running in 23 tries in the process.

Looks good, right ?  Just bear in mind that the Oudtshoorn Lions are at best average journeymen and their two opponents at North-South were the weakest of the four Northvaal guests.  

Irrespective of the foregoing, the Farmers have a delightful squad, full of running and with plenty of more than capable reserves, particularly up front, just itching for a chance to prove their mettle.

The jury is out for the present on Oloff Bergh’s lads’ possibilities, although many questions may well be answered when they drive the twelve or so kilometres to play Paarl Gym on Saturday 9 April, the definite match of the day at the start of the local programme. 

HTS Drostdy might not be on every WP school’s Christmas card list, but, given the relatively ordinary displays by Worcester Gym, Hugenote and Swartland – their main competition in the Boland – they may yet get to play a significant role this year.

The Donkeys were all over the place against a well-prepared Paarl Gym side on 12 March, but made great strides in subsequent outings at their own North-South Festival, at which they progressed from losing 12-14 to Marais Viljoen to dishing out hidings to Transvalia (36-12) and Volkskool of Potchefstroom (44-0).

Their man to watch is dynamic left wing Bradley van Thura, who has already notched nine tries.

Oakdale never fail to start well and did so again this season with a string of wins – against Argentinians Cordoba (at Paul Roos Day, 45-0), Sentraal (Bloem) (46-0), Diamantveld (17-3) and Die Brandwag (31-6) at their own festival – with full-back Darren Adonis taking up where he left off last season both with boot and attacking skills. 

At the risk of incurring the Bulls’ wrath, one must point out that the three festival wins were against teams that seldom feature in the higher echelons of the national rankings and we may have to wait until they face Grey College on 2 May at Wildeklawer to get a clearer picture.

Outeniqua opened their campaign convincingly with the 69-5 annihilation of a rather sub-par Tygerberg side. 

However, their 19-3 win at Brackenfell was less than convincing, a point Garsfontein emphasized on the opening day at the North-South event, downing the Quaggas 35-24, even if George’s finest did recuperate sufficiently to edge Waterkloof 10-3 two days later.

The suggestion is definitely there that the school that churns out backline players known for their brilliant flair might not be market-leaders in this respect in 2016.  On Saturday 9 April Boishaai take to the Garden Route to meet them in what could – at least for the hosts – be a watershed clash.

Paarl Boys’ High might have pounded Die Brandwag 48-6 at Porterville, but any thoughts of a blissfully incident-free start to 2016 were given a severe jolt up at St John’s over Easter.

Having dispatched the Lions Invitation team 54-0, they found a very well-drilled Helpmekaar side formidable opponents, eventually winning 24-17 and on Monday 28 March had to pull out all the stops to make it past a highly-motivated Nelspruit 17-11, conceding an uncommonly large number of penalties along the way. 

By my Youtube reckoning captain Salmaan Moerat probably spent more time asking the referee about his law interpretations in that game than he is likely to do talking to his family the entire year.

Fortunately, the Lowvelders’ two kickers were so woefully off-form that the Strepies were not made to pay the price for what team management admitted was some inexplicably poor decision-making in the early stages of the game, while the Strepies full-back Gianni Lombard was considerably less wasteful with his place-kicking.

As is their tradition, Paarl Gym opted to keep their early-season programme to a bare minimum.  The opening salvo, a 52-0 destruction of HTS Drostdy, seems, in hindsight, to have been rather deceptive.

Sure, the backs ran riot against the undercooked Worcester lads, flyhalf Theo Boshoff providing ample opportunities for the likes of no.11 Muller du Plessis, no.13 Wiaan van Niekerk and no.15 Wiaan van Zyl to weave their spell, but things changed up in Tshwane.

Much as they may have looked forward to the Garsfontein showdown with confidence after dispatching Waterkloof 35-10, the subsequent narrow 15-13 defeat could mean that this game haunts them for the rest of the year.

Paul Roos found out the hard way that very little – and definitely not runaway wins against the likes of Swartland (a pre-season friendly),Windhoek Gym and Hilton (both 67-7) – can prepare one for the double whammy of fixtures against Monument and Affies within the space of a mere 48 hours.  Especially at the altitude to which both those sides are accustomed and when the latter team is still smarting from the 29-12 beating they had received at the hands of the Maroons barely a year ago.

The 14-11 success against a very large but apparently directionless Monnas outfit was put into context even before the Affies match kicked off by the relative ease (30-15) with which Helpmekaar cruised past the Krugersdorp side.

Size told against the Young Maties and, despite the best efforts of the backline, their try-scoring opportunities were restricted to a charge-down and an interception, both fortuitous to put it mildly.

A glance at the Results section will tell you Affies beat them 24-17.  A glance at the Fixtures section will tell you that on 9 April the Maroons host the Grey High team that humbled Bishops so emphatically.  Talk about a season-defining twelve days !  

Having only three players left from last year’s very successful squad plus a new head coach at the helm,Rondebosch decided to forgo the dubious pleasures of a visit to Gauteng in favour of a tour to Ireland.

It turned out to be most successful, not only in terms of their results – they won all four matches (33-8, 100-5, 57-7 and 31-17) against various quaintly-named opposition – but also for its educational value.

Ask the tourists what they learned and they’re sure to tell you (1) that the grass really is that green on the Emerald Isle and (2) that their tour match itinerary ended up bearing not the slightest resemblance to what had originally (read: the day before departure) been scheduled. In fact, they actually ended up playing a fourth game !  

Whether they can translate the successful outcomes on this pleasure cruise into results back in wintry Cape Town remains to be seen.

SACS didn’t risk local exposure prior to their visit to Kearsney, where they acquitted themselves commendably, if not as much so as last year.

They covered all the bases, beating Framesby 19-13, losing 36-39 to the festival hosts in a game characterised by poor defence by both teams and finished with a 10-10 draw against Border biggies, Selborne. 

There is little to suggest that spectators are going to be in for anything less than a continuation of last year’s enterprising rugby from the Young Ikeys.

Bearing in mind their dance-card for 2016, Stellenberg deserve inclusion in this article.

The Jade Brigade faced the same opponents as Boland Landbou at the North-South shindig, seeing off Menlopark 25-16 and Kempton Park 47-14.

While both these results bode well for the adventure that lies ahead of them, they face a path littered with some pretty insurmountable hurdles this year, in which the experience of the likes of scrumhalf Ricardo Duarttee and flyhalf-turned-full-back Evert Carstens is going to be vital.  

Expectations ?  Just playing in elevated company represents a measure of success all by itself.

Like their archrivals SACS, Wynberg waited until Easter to show their hand.

Despite their having lost very few of their squad at the end of last year, the team sheets appear to boast a healthy intake of new talent.  That said, the rugby public down in the Western Cape knows better than to second-guess the likes of Gus Leslie and Craig Childs.

A 31-31 draw against Michaelhouse was followed by close wins against Westville (17-7) and St Alban’s (32-27), a series of results which should leave the Lovers Walk faithful cautiously optimistic.

They might be last alphabetically, but they definitely don’t have the lowest marks on this report card !