Three of the best ! Paarl Boys' High hooker Daniel Jooste and tighthead Adam Neethling (right)
look on as team-mate Gianni Lombard (15) is tackled by a Boland Landbou opponent in
their match, won 31-24 by the visitors, at the Farm in June. The three Boishaai
players were all selected for the SA Schools team. (photo: Cobus Prinsloo)
At a time when schoolboy rugby is increasingly embracing professionalism, the annual Interschools event – for “match” would be to deny contribution of the participants in all the other teams and sports – culminating in the 1st XV clash between Paarl Boys’ High and Paarl Gymnasium is as stark an example of this tendency as one is likely to find in this country.
The match attracts interest from all over the world, most particularly where alumni of these two immensely proud institutions find themselves in each other’s company on the first weekend in August.
Accordingly, this article intends to map out the paths travelled by the protagonists to the almost sacred ground down Faure Street in a similar way to English football’s “Road to Wembley”.
…FROM AURET STREET
Over the last few years Elmo Wolfaardt has been integral to Paarl Boys’ High’s rise to their current heights. Years spent under and then alongside deputy principal Richard Visagie, dubbed by many as the Master of the Front Row, have helped shape him for a position which he maintains as much with gentlemanly dignity as with a keen appreciation of the needs of each of his players.
Sean Erasmus joined the school some four years ago from Glenwood in Durban, where he is largely credited with the rise of that school’s rugby profile. Nor has he wasted the time since his arrival in the Winelands, most pundits expecting him to move to more challenging positions in the course of time.
The last twelve months
After having gone through the 2015 domestic season unbeaten, Boishaai finally beat Gym in the match that defined their season after several years of disappointment.
A tough Steinhoff Top Schools win against Outeniqua rounded off a great year, since which things have continued on an upward trajectory, with the legendary Grey College again amongst their conquests.
They remain unbeaten, one of the most striking aspects being that they never appear to have moved into top gear. One can only hope – or dread, if you’re a Gimmie – what might happen if that happens on 6 August !
Success such as they have enjoyed breeds further success and it is hardly surprising that the SA Schools selectors picked eight of their players for the national team that will, on 7 August, begin its preparations for a series featuring their English, French, Welsh and Italian counterparts plus the SAA team to be played in this area around the middle of the month.
National honours are not to be sniffed at, more so when your number of caps surpasses that of the measuring stick of greatness from Bloemfontein, who managed six caps on two occasions.
What with the elite group practices, trials, coaching prior to and finally attendance at the Craven Week at Kearsney, these young bodies are in serious need of arrest.
Two weeks ago, a marginally sub-full-strength team got enough of a reality check against Rondebosch at a rainy Brug Street to ensure that no risks were taken in naming the best side available for the match at SACS on 30 July.
Don’t be conned into thinking that this smacked of desperation, Wolfaardt and Erasmus don’t know the meaning of the word.
The possibility of emulating the great Grey run of some years ago must also be enjoying a fair amount of airtime in the young heads.
Can they calm their nerves by looking at Interschools as just another step along that route ? Unlikely; even though they have performed astonishingly well, this single game represents such a momentous hurdle that there must be some niggling thoughts.
As every unbiased Paarlite – if such a person even exists – will tell you, victory in this single game outweighs any other consideration. But can these heroes commit themselves to such an extent that they risk injury ahead of national representation, surely the ultimate schoolboy achievement ?
…FROM 416 MAIN ROAD
With the dissipation over the last two years of the remarkably successful Christoff Lötter-Hendrik Weber partnership, the relatively new guard of former Maties captain Helmut Lehmann and Springbok legend Pieter Rossouw has taken over the reins, the latter joining as recently as the start of this season.
Many see this as a step towards ensuring that former Old Gimmies become the vital cogs in reinforcing this rugby machine, a notion given extra credence by the appointment of another former learner, Jean Stemmet, in the newly-created post of recruitment officer.
If these developments don’t constitute an unequivocal statement of intent, nothing will.
The last twelve months
This period could not have started less auspiciously for Gym. They lost Interschools after a nice little run of successes, then, early in the season, a period that Gym normally prefers to remain under the radar, they lost to Garsfontein at the North-South in Pretoria.
To their credit – and I doubt whether anyone expected otherwise – the team has won every game since then, showing scant regard for their opposition. Not content with peaking at Faure Street, they approach every match as they would a cup final.
Come 6 August, they’ll be ready, alright !
Tricky one this. Do they feel in any way inferior to Boishaai, having produced only two SA Schools players to their rivals’ eight ?
As with all pressing questions, there are two ways to respond to this. They can feel a little overawed and let their confidence ebb ever so slightly or they can stare their opponents down, say “So what ?” and use it as extra motivation to sink the Strepies. I don’t believe I actually included that first option !
And don’t forget the most popular saying when it comes to the season thus far having any influence on the outcome: When it comes to Interschools, you can throw the form-book out of the window. But should that be seen as a leveller – in other words counting in Gym’s favour – or does the form book in fact count to some extent ?
Likewise, both teams will doubtless be trying to outfox their opponents by doing what they least expect. Or maybe pulling a double bluff and doing just what they think the opponents would expect of them, but have discarded as too improbable ?
Wouldn’t you like to be inside a few heads in the changing room just before kick-off ?
Gianni Lombard has enchanted the South African schoolboy rugby public with an endless string of top-class performances, while Paarl Gym have a penchant for using their no. 15 as a high-speed counter-attacker. Any doubts about Wian van Zyl’s injury putting a stop to this tactic has been quickly put to rest with the reassignment of SA Schools wing Muller du Plessis to this position.
Big question: They’re both lovely on attack, having had plenty of opportunities to show this, but can their defensive capabilities be depended on when the going gets really tough ?
Thaakir Abrahams and Urgene Johannes (or his deputy, Nicolaas Carstens) need no introduction to the tryline, having scored tries twelve between them. The current Gym wide-men, Jan Jordaan and Ryno Boonzaaier, drafted in with Du Plessis’s shift to the number 15 jersey, might not be quite as experienced with a combined tally of just seven tries, but this slight comparative shortfall can, in part, be put down to Gym’s style of attacking down the middle.
Defensively, the lads from northern Paarl have proved themselves just as capable, if not better than, their Brug Street counterparts, on the rare occasions either side has had any need to use them in this role !
Whoever Gym field at 13, and it will hopefully be Wian van Niekerk, how on earth is he going to be able to rein in Manny Rass ? The double-SA Schools cap has mastered the art of the subtle offload to such an extent that even usually skilful opponents have been made to look very ordinary.
The efforts of Christopher Willemse and Handri van Heerden, the other centres for Gym and Boishaai respectively, might well be relegated to defensive duties in the shadow of the two attacking runners mentioned above.
This is probably the one area where Gym are perceived to have a slight edge, such is the marvellous partnership between their sublime captain Zak Burger, whom many feel was underrated by the selectors, and pivot Theo Boshoff.
There’s nothing wrong with Michael Visser and battle-hardened veteran Rayhann Lombard; far from it, it’s just the confident manner in which the Gimmies pair often seems to be able to dictate play. If the highly-rated Boishaai loose forwards do their work, the answer won’t really matter, will it ?
Back of the scrum
The ultimate test. Muller Uys was simply awesome at Craven Week, making just about every pundit’s short-list for an SA Schools cap. His ability to ghost off the back of the tight and loose phases means he’s gone ten metres before opponents realise it.
However, Boishaai’s Khanya Ncusane also gained an SA Schools call-up and actually claimed the WP no. 8 jersey ahead of Uys. He also thrives in loose play and boasts seven tries to Uys’s four, but Gym depend on Uys more for breaching the opposition’s first line of defence than for crossing the whitewash.
Janus Swart and Henco Martins are both consistently dependable foragers, but their reputations pale somewhat when compared to those of Charl Serdyn, another SA Schools player, and the most likely candidate for Young WP Player of the Year, eleven-try hunter-killer Francke Horn.
A lot may depend on the referee as doubts have been raised about the ball-clearing methods of some of these players.
Right, Salmaan Moerat has just received his second SA cap and will captain the side in a few weeks’ time, which marks him as a particularly special talent, but, in lofty Namibian Adriaan Ludick, Gym have a player who, being almost as tall, can be expected to give his side a good shout when it comes to the line-outs.
Alongside them Gym’s Academy Week second-rower, Raymond Nel, can prepare himself for a battle royal against Boishaai’s Ewie Loubser.
The Boishaai specialty zone, in which you can expect Adam Neethling, Daniel Jooste and Reece Bezuidenhout – all three of them SA Schools caps – to exercise all the tricks they’ve learnt along the way to outmanoeuvre André Booysen, Sehan du Toit and Adriaan Staples.
Having also represented Western Province at Craven Week, Booysen is going to be well aware of the task ahead of him, but the others are going to have to up their game quickly.
Although they are often not a good guide, given injuries and other variables, here are the two sides’ scores against common opposition.
Paarl Boys’ High Paarl Gym
vs Bishops 58-12 (home) 45-10 (h)
vs Boland Landbou 31-24 (away) 34-14 (h)
vs Oakdale 35-21 (h) 41-19 (a)
vs Paul Roos 28-3 (a) 28-24 (h)
vs Rondebosch 25-6 (h) 48-19 (a)
vs SACS 28-13 (a) 17-13 (h)
vs Stellenberg 41-3 (h) 47-17 (h)
vs Wynberg 48-7 (a) 71-11 (a)
Whatever you might infer from the foregoing, strap yourself in for a superb confrontation, which will be played in a spirit entirely its own. For impartial observers, rugby will be the winner – as will be every last one of the players involved in their own ways – but it’s far more important than that for two vast camps of enthusiasts.