… And So It Begins

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The calm before the…  Storm Hanekom, Charlie Hofmeyr’s 2016 Boland Grant Khomo front-ranker,
takes the game to DF Malan during his side’s 17-15 victory in Bellville. (photo: Gail Barnard)

The Western Cape rugby season got off to a bright start on Saturday 25 March 2017, with large parts of the action being concentrated in the annual festival venues.

From tiny Lutzville to somewhat larger Porterville to Stellenbosch to Brackenfell, huge tents were pitched and food stalls were operating at full steam, happily catering to a public whose appetite matched the excitement level.  Besides these events, there were at least a dozen other traditional pipe-openers at separate venues.

As Saturday was Day One, this article will attempt to cover what seems to have been the major talking points of twenty-four jam-packed hours.

Porterville is where we’ll start, simply because it was my privilege to have been invited there, probably, I suspect, because the local side was hoping to hand my alma mater, Bishops, a major shock.

The action started with the little guys early on Friday afternoon and went on until 20:30 on Saturday night, by which time just about everyone – except for the ever-friendly hosts – was totally exhausted.

There were countless highlights, both on and off the field, from the non-stop DJs from Sunshine Radio 100.6 FM, who lived up to their promise of playing non-stop hits, although even if their sending the likes of Def Leppard, AC/DC and Thin Lizzy thundering across the platteland was mildly incongruous, to the fever-pitch excitement of the grand finale on Saturday evening. 

There was also a very poignant moment when the family of young Jannie Fourie, the captain of the 2016 Paarl Boys’ High Under 14 team who perished during December’s veld fires in the Overberg, was presented with a framed jersey signed by all his former team-mates.

The two early matches yielded few highlights, Namaqualand seeing off Montana 10-7 and Hopefield coasting to a 17-0 victory over Langenhoven High, thanks to in no small part to a stellar performance by scrum-half Gregan Papier.

The curtain-raiser to the big game was mildly disappointing on several levels, firstly because time constraints meant that the Stellenberg vs Oudtshoorn match ended up being shortened to around 53 minutes and secondly because the Jade Brigade hardly let their opponents touch, let alone run the ball.

With this constituting a major opportunity for the northern suburbs side to prepare for the rigorous Noord-Suid Festival in Tshwane, they got down to business almost immediately and ran in six great tries, two of them by dynamic scrum-half Jacques van Biljon. 

What a difference a week made for young Stellies flyhalf Nivan Petersen!  Gone was the hesitant performance against Paarl Gym as, sensing slight self-doubt in the Struisies, he sent his backline away with consummate efficiency, even finding the time to show some deft footwork – a la Elton Jantjies – much to the delight of the crowd.

Up front lock, Janko Swanepoel continued to perform heroically, but singling him out would be a bit unfair to the rest of a team which was constantly being shuffled to ensure adequate game-time for the entire squad as they cruised home 38-0.

The Bulle were understandably apprehensive ahead of their game against, as their captain Boetie Opperman put it, “one of the most famous rugby schools in the world.”

That soon dissipated as the locals gave a very spirited performance, tackling as if they had trains to catch (or were in the process of catching them literally) and not thinking twice about running the ball when the chances presented themselves.

The last sign of nerves vanished after pivot Denzil Douries missed a relatively straightforward penalty early on, one which, in retrospect, would have given him an early-season full-house as he later coolly dropped a goal and converted his own try in the latter stages, his incisive break bringing the considerable crowd to their feet.

The Platinum Blues must have been satisfied with their dominance in the scrums, especially given the size of the local eight.

Scrumhalf William Rose – remember that name, recognise the surname – gave a masterclass behind the pack, allowing the backs to launch plenty of their trademark moves.  Right wing Murray Bruce may have crossed the line twice after powerful runs, but pride of place went to a dazzling break by outside centre Reece Meyer, which saw him cross the line virtually untouched.

The final score of 34-10 was perhaps closer than the home team might have dreamt of, but it meant that everybody at the ground went home full of confidence for the coming months.

To wrap up what was, as usual, a sublime weekend, permit me to thank my most indefatigable hosts: headmaster Willem Engelbrecht and his wife Adriani, Mariette and Divvy van Deventer and sports organiser Heini Redelinghuys and his better half, Marni, who just happens to own the stunning Twin Trees guesthouse.

At the Paul Roos Day, the extent of Boland Landbou’s 83-5 annihilation of Windhoek High spoke volumes about their stunning backline.  Significantly, eleven of their thirteen tries came from numbers 10 to 14 as flyhalf Darren Hendricks slotted in beautifully.

Oakdale did well to restrict the imposing French Under 17 national team to a nine=point margin, 31-22, while HTS Drostdy breathed fresh air into the often-deflated lungs of the Boland region by giving as good as they got, despite losing 19-32 to their Maroon-clad hosts. The Donkeys’ full-back Cohen Jasper made sure that his name will be remembered with a superb performance which included two tries.

The finale at the Brackenfell Sports Weekend saw Outeniqua prove just too strong for their gallant hosts, winning 27-15, with hooker Stephan Leonard taking his try tally for the season to five.

The earlier games had seen several sides flexing their muscles in impressive style, HTS Bellville running in nine tries to pummel Fairbairn College 58-5 and minuscule Bonnievale, who probably have as many youngsters from which to choose as there are classes in Brackenfell, continue where they left off last August with an emphatic ten-try 52-15 thrashing of Bosmansdam.

The Lutzville Rugby Day tossed up a major surprise as Monument Park downed perennial local star performers Vredendal 16-7, the educated boot of Branden Pretorius driving the nail home with eleven points from the tee. 

What makes this result all the more noteworthy is that the Parkies have long been resolved to seeing their rising stars spirited away by more affluent schools.  Hopefully, this will represent more than just a tiny gap in the clouds over Kraaifontein.

The stand-alone game of the day was Paarl Gym’s televised 35-33 victory over a very daunting Affies side.  It is most unfortunate that in both this and another clash, which I shall not name, the refereeing constituted one of the major talking points, rather than the welcome two-try return of local flyer Muller du Plessis.

Other noteworthy results saw Hugenote clinch a narrow 29-26 win over visitors Hermanus in Wellington, Charlie Hofmeyr sneak home 15-12 against hosts DF Malan in Bellville and an experienced Stellenbosch team send Hottentots Holland home crestfallen, 43-29.

Both Groenberg (27-10 vs Langeberg in Grabouw) and Schoonspruit (38-7 vs Hawston in Malmesbury) continued their encouraging starts to the campaign and Durbanville gave notice of seismic activity in the hills with a resounding 36-10 triumph over Swartland.

Catch a couple of quick breaths; it’s Oakdale and TSRF time, come Saturday!