Only A matter of Days Now……

sacs12

Platinum Blue flame. Bishops no. 8 François Stassen, seen here in action against
SACS last year, will be out to torment St Andrew's when the teams meet at
the Piley Rees on Saturday 19 March 2016. (photo: Peter van As) - See more at: http://stoopstats.co.za/#sthash.1IzSfILr.dpuf
 

However, just as that hurdle has been negotiated, so two new ones, both caused by the very early timing of the Easter holidays (18 March to 4 April 2016), muddy the placid waters of Western Cape schools rugby.

Firstly, with the Easter break starting on Friday 18 March, those schools who stick steadfastly to the unwritten rule that summer sports have first choice on youngsters until the end of February (the most prominent among these being the southern suburbs schools and Paul Roos) will find themselves extremely short of time to prepare for the winter. 

The early occurence of Easter serves to exacerbate things for the local big guns as virtually every side – Rondebosch will happily be touring Ireland at the time – starts its campaign proper in the spotlight – and under the critical microscope – of the prestige festivals from 24 to 28 March. 

These events always have an appreciable early impact on national rankings, particularly for the big inland teams who are intent on claiming some much-prized Western Cape scalps.  

Secondly, on a purely domestic level, the anticipated logjam of traditional pre-season rugby days has reared its less than pleasant head.

The various rugby days : Saturday 12 March

No-one can be in two places at the same, which means that the Porterville hoedown, the Brackenfell Day, Paul Roos 150 Part II – in response to the huge success of last year’s event – and plus a subdued Paarl Gym event are all scheduled for Saturday 12 March. 

Perhaps the most tactful way to avoid stepping on sensitive toes is to make one’s school unavailable for all of the above.

Inevitably, someone or something had to give and, unfortunately, it was Lutzville.

No sooner had the news that Vredendal would be playing at Paarl Gym filtered through than Stellenberg let it be known that their 1st XV would not be going out to this picturesque little town either, the coaches having opted instead for a training camp ahead of their extremely challenging programme.

The nett result is that Lutzville will play Monument Park and that’s it.

Here’s what to expect at the different events.

Brackenfell Rugby Day

Most of the action here features the lesser lights in the Western Cape, but the main game, between the hosts and Outeniqua should make the day an attractive option, especially for those not in a position to take the whole day off.

The other two highlights feature a match between perpetual Boland overachievers Labori and  Fairmont from Durbanville, while rebuilding Bellville take on Strand.

Paarl Gym

The Gimmies’ rugby day will be a comparatively muted affair with just four schools each bringing a number of their teams to northern Paarl.

Hermanus and Vredendal will meet in the one match, while Gym will face HTS Drostdy in the other game.

This latter pairing is interesting for two reasons.  In the recent past  Gym have been notoriously late starters, not given to such early season games, nor have they been that keen on playing the Donkeys.  On both counts, this marks a welcome change.

Porterville 

Although the venue and the vibe is all Porterville, there is no doubt that Paarl Boys’ High, in the form of tireless Johnny van Niekerk, do call a large number of the shots, by which I mean whom the Strepies, and most particularly their 1st XV, play. 

As a result of the close co-operation between the schools, Paarl Boys’ High traditionally uses Porterville as a trial run for many of their teams, which, without being rude to the rugby abilities of Willem Engelbrecht’s learners, definitely ups the general quality of the play on view. 

This year, however, they are taking this opportunity to a whole new level as the Boishaai Under 19B and C teams will be playing 1st XVs from the Boland.

Word is that Garsfontein made threatening noises about wanting to come to the Vibrant ‘Ville this March – probably so that Embrose Papier’s family could actually watch him play – but that idea predictably died a quick and emphatic death.

And so Die Brandwag (EP) will be taking on last year’s top-ranked school in the feature game.

The Uitenhage unit, like their Humansdorp rivals Nico Malan, are always to be found scratching at the door of the big league in the Eastern Province in much the same way as Stellenberg and, occasionally, Tygerberg do down here.

This should be a stern test as the lads in the grey jerseys with the red and green stripes don’t lie down for anyone, making them ideal sparring partners for the Brug Street boys.

On Saturday the Under 19 programme commences around 13:00.

The all-1st XV games are :

14:40  Stellenbosch vs Namaqualand
15:50  Schoonspruit   vs  Oudtshoorn
18:10  Porterville vs Langenhoven High
19:20  Paarl Boys’ High vs Die Brandwag (EP)

Paul Roos

Three separate strands have combined to put an armful of spanners in the works of Paul Roos 150 Part II.

Firstly, the only WP premier A sides attending the day will be the hosts and Boland Landbou, the rest all having cited prior engagements or having indicated their unavailability.

Secondly, Outeniqua’s withdrawal has taken a little of the icing off a cake already adversely affected by the absence of any big-name visitors from up north.  Affies might not have been approached, such was the uncertaintv surrounding the day and Pietersburg took such a hiding against Paarl Gym last year that they have set their sights considerably lower, opting to attend TSRF 2016 a week later. 

Thirdly, with the other six teams comprising Oakdale, Langenhoven Gym, Windhoek Gym, Cordoba Athletic Club from Argentina, Landboudal of Jacobsdal and Hottentots Holland, it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to appreciate that the permutations available to Stef Jordaan and company were pretty limited.

The Young Maties and Landbou both play Oakdale during the year, while the Bulle also meet the Langenhoven Lions in their local SWD programme.  Plus, with last year’s 71-0 drubbing at Oakdale’s hands indelibly etched in their memory, Landboudal indicated beforehand that they thought HHH would be ideal opposition. 

The programme reads as follows:

09:15  Landboudal  vs  Hottentots Holland
10:30  Oakdale  vs  Cordoba Athletic Club (Argentina)
11:45  Boland Landbou  vs  Langenhoven Gym
13:00  Paul Roos  vs  Windhoek Gym

Other early-March highlights

As early as Monday 29 February Argentinians Pueyreddon provide Paul Roos with their first outing with the oval ball at the Markotter.

On Saturday 5 March, the residents of George can seek the welcoming environment of Outeniqua High School as the Quaggas start their season with a home match against Parow-based Tygerberg.

With the two host teams strongly favoured to win, the most interesting aspect of these games will most likely be gauging their relative strengths, both the Quaggas and the Young Maties having the infuriating (for their opponents) habit of coming up with exciting new talent especially when it is least expected.

Tygerberg will also be in action on Saturday 12 March, at home to Hugenote, in what might well turn out to be a very close-fought encounter.

On Saturday 19 March, the day the two Western Cape festivals start, the spotlight will definitely be on the huge Bishops derby against St Andrew’s of Grahamstown at the Piley Rees. 

While traditional clashes don’t come much bigger than this, the fact that this is the first outing for the Platinum Blues under new head coach Angus Firth will certainly add to the anticipation.

Whatever your take on the situation, nobody can be in any doubt that we are in for another winter of exciting fare down in the southernmost part of the continent, renowned for being home to all that is best in this genre.