Never far from the action. SACS hooker Lance Steytler prepares to receive a pass from
team-mate Alex Halvorsen during their team’s 27-20 win against Maritzburg
College at this year’s Wynberg Festival. (photo: Sharon Laurenson)
On the surface the season just past may seem merely to have reinforced the widening chasm between the southern suburbs schools and their Winelands peers, but there were several encouraging signs, most, but not all of them, provided by an enterprising SACS side.
Their results don’t fully tell the story of an impeccably prepared side that refused to simply be cannon-fodder in the toughest schools rugby division in the country.
Every coach tells his team that, if they play to their full potential, they can beat any side on any given day. This SACS (11-2-6) side will be remembered for never failing to perform with this self-belief foremost in their minds, however daunting the odds stacked against them,
Graeme Wepener’s youngsters dominated the city section with a 4-1-1 win ratio. Sitting pretty after victories over Bishops (38-19) and Wynberg (24-12) and a thrilling 28-28 draw against Rondebosch, the team showed immense character to recover from a surprisingly comprehensive 28-43 setback against the Platinum Blues to quieten any murmurs of concern by beating Rondebosch (28-10) and Wynberg (31-20).
It is also worth noting that the last four of these games were played away from home.
In successive weekends in April, the Young Ikeys held their heads high in defeat at Boland Landbou (18-28) and Paarl Gym (13-17), after which they took traditional rivals Paul Roos to the wire at the Markotter before succumbing 34-38. Nor did the Boishaai machine have things all their own way, winning 28-13.
Although these will, of course, be seen as the measuring stick of their calibre, their other results are almost as impressive.
At Kearsney a 19-16 win over Framesby, a nailbiting 36-39 loss to the hosts and a fairly dour 10-10 draw against Selborne may have meant that the team couldn’t quite reprise the heroics of last year’s stunning win over Affies, but their other local exploits in the Mother City left one in no doubt as to their clinical efficiency.
In their matches against Premier B opposition only Brackenfell, whom they edged 17-13, offered a serious threat. Durbanville (45-13), DF Malan (78-5), Tygerberg (82-14) and Bellville (47-7) were put to the sword and not even Maritzburg College (27-20) at the Wynberg Festival could lower their colours.
Captain and lock James Brewer led a workmanlike pack, which was particularly dangerous in the loose from which phases Craven Week hooker Liam Larkan and loose forwards Alex Halvorsen and Lance Steytler, redeployed from hooker, might have scored the tries (fifteen, nine and eight respectively), but the input of fellow big men Cameron Laurenson, Tom Robinson, Connor O’Reilly and Duncan Ferguson, to name but a few, was vital.
The most striking revelation was Dutch import Jordy Hop at outside centre, the Grade 11 learner slotting 70 kicks at goal in his 185 points.
His job was made easy by those around him. Halfbacks Vusile “Lucky” Dlepu (another Craven Week cap) and David Hayes established the base for long-serving Nick Redelinghuys (nine tries), Michael Abrahams and Michael Ravenscroft (five each) and other contributors Michael Sutton, Aaron Zeederberg and Justin Bendeman.
All in all, it was a job well done. When rotation sees Nick Maurer take over the reins from Wepener, he will have at least the backbone of a very capable backline at his disposal.
Statistically, the new-look Rondebosch squad (14-1-5) actually outperformed SACS, but their position was massively enhanced by a tour of Ireland, in which they beat Sutton (33-8), Buccaneers (100-5), Old Crescent (57-7) and a Munster Development team (31-17).
It took a frustrating 10-28 home defeat against SACS, with whom they had drawn 28-28 away, to wipe out their chance of remaining city champions, even though they whitewashed both Bishops (15-14 and 32-26) and Wynberg (29-8 and 23-17).
Of the country teams, only Boland Landbou (15-48) and Paarl Gym (19-48) could record comfortable wins. Paul Roos (26-43) and unstoppable Paarl Boys’ High (6-25) were made to sweat.
While they cruised past KES (38-12) and struggled against Upington (20-18) at the Wynberg Festival, none of their B league opponents De Kuilen (35-5), Bellville (19-6), Strand (29-9) and Tygerberg (39-21) really got close to them, no matter what the scores suggest.
Without trying to belittle the solid efforts of the rest of a remarkably well-balanced team, the presence of Craven Week cap Mike Mavovana, be it at right wing or full-back, and flyhalf/inside centre Sam Cragg (who notched 160 points), was integral to Bosch’s success.
Mavovana’s influence was amply illustrated in the closing stages of the Bellville match, where he sparked some life into a tired performance, and in his two sublime tries in the season-closer away against Bishops. In total, he registered twenty one sparkling five-pointers during the season, only eight of them on the overseas tour, and this despite missing several games under provincial embargo or on international duty.
The backline was also hampered by a long-term injury to inside centre Van der Bijl Blake, whose absence resulted in the versatility of Cragg and half-backs Robbie Davis and James van Rensburg being subjected to some searching tests.
However, DJ Falconer at no. 13 (seven tries) was a steadying influence and the likes of Zaka Sallie, evergreen Amani Minani, Dane Stevens, tiny Keegan Collier and Ross Roode (eleven, six, five, four and three tries respectively) were more than capable of stepping up to the plate when required.
The forwards, marshalled by wily captain and flank Garth Shenker, also yielded a provincial cap, lock Matthew Grobler making the Academy Week team. Other members of the back five included no. 8 Hylton Goatley, flanks Cal Smid and Cheyne Robertson and mobile Braden Tredoux at lock.
True to the form of recent years, Bosch were blessed with highly combative hookers in Devon Arendse and Suhaib Ajmoodien, who crossed the line nine times between them and were ably supported by Chulu Mputing, Tomasz de Rosenwerth and Matthew Horrigan.
All things considered, definitely a campaign on which Mark Lindenberg’s charges can look back with pride.
Although their 10-1-12 record looks quite reasonable, 2016 is a year Bishops will be quite happy to see the back of.
Two factors – a new head coach and the loss of their captain before the season had even started – could be offered in mitigation, but, in all honesty, both can be discounted. On the one hand, the new head coach had plenty of experience; on the other, one player doesn’t make a team.
The local league record (2-4) may have included a first-round drubbing away to SACS (19-38) and a surprising 21-31 setback in the return game at Wynberg, but statistics alone do not tell the story of two agonisingly close defeats against archrivals Rondebosch (14-15 and 26-32). Happily, Wynberg (38-7) and SACS (43-28) were both made to taste the Piley Rees turf.
Victory in the St Andrew’s derby (27-17) preceded the visit to St Stithian’s over Easter and the first surprise. While Durban High (27-24) and Westville (20-20) were close games, in between came a hefty 0-44 defeat to Grey High, where second-half mistakes precipitated a meltdown.
Locally, the victory over Brackenfell (30-23) hinted at tough times ahead, which were realized in the form of a 58-12 drubbing at Paarl Boys’ High. A win over Tygerberg (40-14) was followed by the Wynberg Festival where a shock 14-17 reversal at the hands of Upington was compounded by another hiding (24-40) against a sublime Jeppe team.
After defeat at SACS, the Platinum Blues saw off HTS Drostdy (31-23) and Durbanville (50-10), but went into the last two local derbies with memories of a 45-10 beating at Paarl Gym
Their fortunes at home in the Independent Schools Festival encapsulated their season. A comfortable 62-10 cruise past Eton, a riveting 35-31 nailbiter against Hilton before a very slick Kingswood side outlasted them 34-24. Eighteen games in three and a half months ! Wow !
The run-up to the second round derbies consisted of comprehensive home defeats against Boland Landbou (14-47) and Paul Roos (24-42).
The disruption caused by the pre-season loss of no. 8 and captain François Stassen not only meant that Jean Pienaar had to move to no.8 and take over as captain, but also necessitated Seb Prentice, whose impact on the wing was highly anticipated, having to pack down on the flank.
Unusually for Bishops, the backs struggled even though Harry Makin, who came to the rescue as kicker, amassing 163 points (which included ten tries), and James Macdonald (ten tries) formed a stable half-back pairing.
With centres Rob Macdonald and Lubelo Scott, who was selected for the Craven Week team, not clicking convincingly despite their seven tries apiece, Murray Bruce, Tristan Hermans and injury-prone Ross Goodwin served out wide until Prentice moved back. Fortunately Brandon van der Westhuizen blossomed at full-back, scoring fourteen glorious tries.
Pienaar was joined at loose-forward by variations involving Cullum Diem, Prentice – the scorer of fourteen great tries and an Academy Week representative – Byron Cranswick and Christian Stehlik, none of whom are solidly built, although one of the last two usually joined powerhouse Luke Viljoen in the second row. Up front JP Smith, Clyde de Beer, Alasdair Jewson and Zico Oaker supported lively hooker Jason Hofmeyr.
It may be a particularly hackneyed cliché, but it rings true on several level for the Bishops 1sts of 2016: the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak - a lack of beef and an occasional tendency visibly to engage panic mode.
However, they will start the new year with a clean slate - and a new backline coach, Mike Bayly's externally-funded contract having come to an end.
What Wynberg’s hardly stellar 8-1-10 record doesn't tell you is that this was a season in which the team from Lovers Walk experienced some pretty dark moments.
The decision to replace long-serving coach Gus Leslie early in May came as a body blow, which is hardly surprising given his huge contribution to the game at the school over the years. Whatever the reason, it certainly had a profound impact on the spirit within the 1st XV. Let’s leave it at that.
Their southern suburbs season (1-5) only came to life towards the end. Comprehensive defeats at the hands of Rondebosch (8-29), Bishops (7-38) and SACS (12-24) did not bode well for the return legs, yet a vastly improved showing against Rondebosch (17-23) was followed by a well-deserved 31-21 win over Bishops and a gutsy, if unsuccessful, display against SACS (20-31).
The season had started successfully, two wins (vs Westville 17-7) and St Alban’s (32-27) following a thrilling 31-31 draw against Michaelhouse at the St Stithian’s Easter Festival.
Back home, Tygerberg were easily seen off (29-7), but the next fortnight was going to be one long test of character. Paarl Boys’ High thrashed them 48-7 at Hawthornden, then after the 175 Festival win over St John’s (38-12), the team suffered two home defeats, losing narrowly 28-29 to Maritzburg College, 11-71 to Paarl Gym, the latter proving to be Leslie’s swansong.
Not even a workmanlike 47-15 victory against De Kuilen could help them forget the emotional 7-24 setback at Grey High and Bishops and Rondebosch put the final nails in the second term coffin.
Optimism, boosted by a comfortable 48-10 win over UK tourists St George’s of Weybridge, was only temporarily dashed by a 50-5 thrashing at Paul Roos as a magnificent, if widely unexpected, 37-34 triumph over Boland Landbou set things up nicely for the second round of southern suburbs fixtures. Two of these may have ended in defeat, but Bishops were sent packing and the season had, at least to some extent, been salvaged.
To the dismay of their supporters and the detriment of the optimal functioning of the team – 2015 scrumhalf hero Labib Kannemeyer often had to duty at full-back, but still managed to cross the whitewash eleven times and secure selection for the WP Academy Week team. Although a long injury lay-off to powerful wing Dian Fourie also disrupted the backline, Christian Colborne (five tries) and Ryan Biscombe in the midfield and wings Siya Nombakuse (six tries) and Max Jewell formed a cohesive unit outside fly-half Dom Coetzer (156 points).
The loose trio of captain Steve Mathew, Callum Steyn, who each scored five tries, and Cameron Bowes performed Trojan work in the loose, while the front five – locks Gideon Boshoff and rangy Yanga Ngcayisa, hooker Christian Botha and props Adeeb Isaacs and Romario Henriques – never shirked the donkey work in the tight phases.
Not known as a school to dwell on past misfortune, the Berg have already made one important decision regarding the future. First team coach Craig Childs was recently appointed the first Director of Rugby at the school and indications are that he will continue to guide the flagship team with the capable assistance of Justin van Winkel.
Four competitive southern suburbs schools might be a tough ask. Most local aficionados would probably settle for just one. The way things currently stand, hopes even for a compromise might be somewhat optimistic.