Town Versus Country In The Premier A

BLSCS 9

Hop it, Jordy !  Boland Landbou flyhalf Janlu Steenkamp breaks the SACS line
despite the vain efforts of Jordy Hop (right). (photo: Marilize Jordaan)

Hmm, Saturday 23 April 2016 brings us three matches between WP Premier A teams (Paul Roos vs Rondebosch, Wynberg vs Paarl Boys’ High and Paarl Gym vs SACS) plus fairly tough assignments for the other two (Boland Landbou vs Strand and Tygerberg vs Bishops).  Looks pretty interesting, right ?

Closer inspection, however, reveals that careful consideration – bearing Wildeklawer, Wynberg and K2 in Oudtshoorn in mind – went into the early segment of the WP Premier A fixture list with the result that, of the above fixtures, only the last two could conceivably toss up a surprise result and even then the odds favour the Premier A lads..

You will notice, too, that the three all-Premier A fixtures each involve a Winelands side against a southern suburbs one, and we know all too well how those tend to pan out.  This year is already falling into the long-established pattern of country superiority, which really only leaves the Landbou-Strand and Tygerberg-Bishops matches as unpredictable wild-cards.

Nevertheless, despite the fine form exhibited by the Young Maties, the Markotter match could just produce a surprise.

Rondebosch have been sailing along prettily – in the face of limited headwinds, it must be said – unbeaten in six starts, four of which were in Ireland and one in Kuils River.  The only major test to which they’ve been subjected was a home game against a Wynberg side that still seems to be shaping its 2016 style.

The result of these fixtures is that Bosch have taken full advantage of every opportunity, with Mike Mavovana enjoying a free-running role at full-back and the ever-elusive Amani Minani buzzing around annoyingly on the wing. 

The effectiveness of these two has to a major extent freed Sam Cragg at pivot and Van der Bijl Blake in midfield of the potential headache of how to make sure that the scoreboard keeps ticking over.

Simultaneously, the forwards, who have used their time overseas to create a very close-knit unit around veterans Matthew Grobler and Garth Shenker, are confident of their own capabilities.

The Maroons’ 24-28 defeat to Paarl Gym last weekend is hardly likely to have destroyed their confidence.  There was nothing wrong with their performance; they happened to lose with their honour largely intact.  Things like that happen.

The forwards stood up well to what is becoming a redoubtable Gym pack and the backline crossed swords with Pieter Rossouw’s charges quite successfully.  In case that doesn’t paint the picture of a close game, both scrumhalves score two tries and each no. 8 got one.

Bruce Coetzee gave good account of himself at the back of a pack which gave Grey High a thorough going-over a week earlier.  There are no bit-part actors in the eight-man cast which includes hard-working drones like Daneel Steinman and Phillip van Dyk.

Damian Willemse at flyhalf may well shoulder a heavy burden of expectations, given his sublime contributions in 2015, but his ultimate effectiveness is in turn dependent on scrumhalf Tiaan Coetzee and outside backs Lyle Hendricks, David-Ley Moses, Dylan de Villiers and Mr Side-Step Joshua Vermeulen at full-back.

The injury that saw Vermeulen leave the field against Gym must be a very real cause for concern to Stef Jordaan and his assistants, but one would think that the rigours to which Paul Roos have already been subjected locally this year should stand them in good enough stead to withstand whatever Bosch throw at them.

Pre-season expectation had Wynberg down to be at the very least top of the southern suburbs tree, a view that wasn’t damaged by their exploits at the St Stithian’s Festival.  The only blot on their copybook to date has been the 29-7 reversal at Rondebosch on opening day, but there remains a nagging feeling that we have still to see the best this side has to offer.

Last year’s squad remained largely intact, but the decision to blood some of the more successful youngsters outside this group has, to the non-intrusive outsider at least, meant that rather more adjustments have had to be made than were anticipated.

The talent is there.  In the backs Labib Kannemeyer has returned to his scrum-half berth after temporary redeployment at centre and Dom Coetzer and Daniel Jamieson are well aware of the vagaries of life in the top flight.  The imminent return from injury of impressive left-wing Dian Fourie is sure to bolster this department.

The forwards have yet to make their mark, but under the guidance of captain Steve Mathew and his loose-forward partner of 2015, Callum Steyn, they simply need time, like any mortals.

Unfortunately, that is something they’re unlikely to be granted when the remarkably consistent Paarl Boys’ High machine comes to Hawthornden on Saturday.

The presence of several SA Schools caps – lock Salmaan Moerat and centre Manny Rass – and the ever-increasing street-cred contributed by Khanya Ncusane, Rayhaan and Gianni Lombard and Charl Serdyn and rising stars Thaakir Abrahams, Daniel Visser, Vian Fourie and Francke Horn means that it is going to be determined to extend its fifteen-month unbeaten run, whether a rigorous Wildeklawer Festival lies just ahead or not.

Even in neutral, the Brug Street Brigade should take this one comfortably.

SACS have definitely produced the most noticeable breath of fresh air into the Premier A atmosphere this season.  And they’re not having to resort to any new tricks to do so, either.  Their recipe has simply been to up the tempo to the point where they are operating in the face of the opposition for the entire game.

The fact that they are managing to do this can in part be put down to senior players such as James Brewer, Liam Larkan, Alex Halvorsen and Nic Redelinghuys, but don’t overlook the obvious. 

The hand of long-term coach Graeme Wepener – and, no doubt, the occasional input of headmaster Ken Ball, himself a former provincial scrumhalf – is easily discernible in the highly entertaining style into which all the youngsters have unconditionally bought. 

Young talent like nippy no. 9 Lucky Dlepu, outside centre Jordy Hop and fast man Zolani Masembathe on the right wing is blossoming to such an extent that the side is already asking a lot of searching questions of its opponents.

None of this will perturb their hosts, Paarl Gym, who seem already to have perfected their gameplan.  The forwards, with loosehead André Booysen, lock Adriaan Ludick and crafty eighthman Muller Uys in the vanguard, gave Paul Roos a torrid time of it last Saturday and the backline is running in top gear.

In this regard, names such as Zak Burger, Theo Boshoff, Wian van Niekerk, Wian van Zyl and Muller du Plessis, the human roadrunner out on the left, are all destined to become ingrained in local rugby folklore, such is the thrilling interplay that they produce week in, week out.

Gym are odds-on favourites, but spectators should think beyond the outcome when deciding on whether to watch what promises to be an exhibition of all that is good in the schoolboy game.

Boland Landbou have to fire sooner or later.  If you keep repeating the mantra, hopefully it will happen.

Seriously though, their closing minutes against SACS last Saturday gave the Farm faithful something to smile about.  The big boys at last started to pick up the pace, taking their lead from fiery captain Heinrich Brendel and driving with a sense of purpose.

This, in turn, rubbed off on their slick backline, who seem to have been infected by the shortage of confidence shown by those in front of them.

There can be little doubt that scrumhalf Deon Carstens is as good as you’ll find in the province and Janlu Steenkamp’s distribution skills aren’t lacking either.  Both wings, Durin Nasson and Duren Hoffman, have plenty of pace.

Notice what hasn’t been mentioned ?  Yip, defence.  It’s not that the Farmers can’t tackle, it’s the hesitation they sometimes show, which opponents undoubtedly perceive as insecurity regarding their own abilities.  A perfect example is the open space they afforded SACS battering-ram Alex Halvorsen on Saturday.

Strand aren’t in quite the same, er, league as Landbou, but they do have plenty of self-belief, built up in their 6/6 record to date.  Don’t worry about whom they beat, the point is they did so and they know their own strengths.

Scrumhalf Jano Brink seems to have picked up where his predecessor Jandré Koekemoer left off and stalwarts like Micael Fourie in the front row and Abdul Rhoda and Urchwin Chuma out back picked up a lot more than a few bruises and scrapes from their 1st XV exposure in 2015.

Strand really have nothing to lose and it is the manner in which the Farmers burst this bubble of success that is going to go some way to determining the score.

The most positive thing one can say about Bishops is that they are riding a roller-coaster which unfortunately is based at ground level and goes five storeys down for every one it goes up.  That applies pretty well to Tygerberg to such an extent that their rugby jerseys should prominently feature a yoyo.

The difference, however, is that the Tygers have the maddening – to their stoic supporters – habit of suddenly producing a stunning performance after a very average spell.

That’s where they are now and in full-back Tiaan Henecke they have just the weapon to cause a stir in a Bishops defence that has already gone through a several trying times in recent weeks.

Their kicking woes aside – 4/21 tries converted – James Macdonald, Seb Prentice and Lubelo Scott have yet to create the right kind of headlines this season.

The Platinum Blues’ pack is not that threatening, either, something the likes of wrecking-ball Tygers tighthead Handré Jooste will be on a mission to test.

This game must be seen as the challenge that finally gets the anticipated electricity running through the Rondebosch side.      

If you live a little inland, you could be in for a treat when Outeniqua visit HTS Drostdy in Worcester.

Renier de Villiers’ team showed plenty of commitment in restricting Oakdale to a 26-13 win, one of the Bulls’ lower winning margins this campaign, on Trappespark last week.

A similar performance could just throw a spanner of doubt into Outeniqua’s works.

The Quaggas gave Boishaai plenty to think about two weeks ago before conceding a late try to lose 29-27, a result which had a lot of people rethinking the George outfit’s prospects for the year.

It is common knowledge that JP Duvenage calls the shots from the inside centre berth to the extent that if he is on song, the team thrives.

The million dollar question is : Will the coaches risk playing him against the Donkeys when the next weekend sees the team up against Affies and Monument at Wildeklawer ?

Two other clashes that might be worth watching are Oudtshoorn vs Hugenote and Swartland vs Hermanus.

Maybe the selection isn’t that meagre after all.  But then treat yourself to a look at the deluge of games coming up next week !