Farmers Mentally Prepared For Paarl Gym

“Mmm, this could be tricky !”  Rondebosch left wing Ross Roode (centre) and flank
Mihlali Mgodolela (right) try to figure out a way to evade Stellenberg’s Johann van
der Merwe (7, left) during their side’s recent 21-33 defeat away to
the northern suburbs side. (Photo: Robert Gad)

There may only be thirteen fixtures scheduled for the whole province on Saturday 10 June 2017, but don’t think for one minute that this translates into a bunch of one-sided massacres.

This number includes three all-WP Premier A clashes (Bishops vs Paarl Boys’ High, Boland Landbou vs Paarl Gym and Rondebosch vs SACS), testing outings for the other two big boys (Paul Roos vs Oakdale and Stellenberg vs Wynberg), a rare visit to the city from top Boland unit HTS Drostdy (at Tygerberg) and two Premier B face-offs (Bellville vs Durbanville and HTS Bellville vs Brackenfell).  

That is as good as just about any weekend so far, so make sure the kids have prepared for their exams, put on warm clothing and get your weekly fix at a venue near you!

By now, schools rugby aficionados should be pretty familiar with just about all of the usual suspects, so for the next couple of weeks, the spotlight will shift rather to how sides’ recent performances might well shape their approach to upcoming fixtures.

It goes without saying (oops, there, I’ve said it) that Gym’s visit to Windmeul is the star attraction.  After seven lean years against the Northern Paarl team, the Farmers have effectively been building up to this massive derby and their visit to Paarl Boys’ High in two week’s time.

Recent results might seem to indicate a measure of vulnerability in the Landbou side, while their guests are looking ominously solid.  But look more closely. 

Landbou had all but relegated the Stellenberg match to the back of their minds in terms of priorities.  After all, Oloff Bergh’s charges hadn’t had it easy at the Jade Brigade’s little field in recent years, plus there were a few mind games at play.  Yet Landbou registered a classic 35-34 come-from-behind win that just dripped character.

Gym might have been stronger than their 44-24 victory over Bishops at the Piley Rees suggests, but their confidence suffered a considerable blow when they surrendered a 19-0 half-time advantage to lose 21-19 at SACS a week earlier.  And they only led the Platinum Blues 34-24 with two minutes to go.

Being able to take the field free of expectations in their first match against Winelands opposition this year is, in reality, the only approach open to the Farmers.  The more naturally they express themselves, the quicker they will be able to settle down.

Gym has recent history and physical size on their side.  Try convincing a modern-day David how much notice one should take of that!

Bishops have been bubbling under encouragingly for the last month –  in fact, ever since their unexpected draw at home to SACS.

The trouble is, of course, that even if they were piping hot they probably wouldn’t be able to mount a sustained challenge capable of upsetting the undisputed pace-setters at national, forget about provincial, level. 

If one makes the mistake of gauging the Platinum Blues’ fortunes solely by the fluency of their backline, then the omens are brighter than they’ve been for quite a while.  The confidence that appeared in brief glimpses in the 26-32 defeat away to HTS Drostdy was sparkling very nicely, thank you, against Durbanville, Wynberg and Gym, with some lovely running by George Spencer, James Ipser and Rob Macdonald.

But the forwards, following jack-of-all-trades hooker Ghaalib Kenny and flank Matt Norton’s lead, have become a far more cohesive unit.

None of which means that they can relax ahead of Boishaai’s arrival.  Not only have the Brug Street Boys been there and bought the t-shirt, they probably designed it as well.  Strength in depth doesn’t begin to describe a side that has calmly absorbed the crippling blow of losing a talent as outstanding as Boeta Chamberlain for virtually a second complete season.

Shift a player here, slot someone in there and no-one can notice the difference.  If anything is likely to favour Bishops, it will be the sheer weight of fatigue on the shoulders of an extended squad that has been in almost non-stop action for three trying months.

Is it reasonable to expect that Sean Erasmus and Elmo Wolfaardt’s unit to show cracks sometime?  Not really, but the folk on the Heatlie Pavilion can be forgiven for dreaming…..

Almost ten weeks ago Rondebosch and SACS started their seasons on day one of the 2017 Tony Stoops Rugby Festival at Brackenfell, comfortably beating Pietersburg (50-3) and Ligbron (60-14) respectively. 

Isn’t it remarkable how their fortunes have diverged since then!

Both teams started out with sides full of players who boasted extensive 1st XV experience, but both have suffered injuries to crucial players.  The difference seems largely to be how the two teams have coped.

Flyhalf van der Bijl Blake, who was expected to be very influential for Bosch, is a long-term casualty, a cruel blow coming after the disappointment of his missing a huge chunk of the 2016 campaign.  Although the inclusion of Hugo Minnaar at 10 or 15 has hardly disrupted the backline, the balance, psychological or otherwise, is not quite the same.

In the case of SACS, flank Tom Robinson’s season is over and mercurial kingpin Jordy Hop was sidelined for a significant spell after colliding with Bellville’s Dan Aspeling – who, ironically, suffered another serious injury last Saturday against Swartland – at the Wynberg Festival. 

The Young Ikeys were fortunate enough to have the accurate boot of full-back Michael Abrahams to fall back on, while Chad van der Loo willingly shouldered the extra responsibility in the Dutchman’s absence. 

Similar disruptions leading to very different outcomes.

The impact on the scoreboard of the two packs is also markedly different, the SACS big men having crossed opponents’ lines no fewer than thirty times, while their Bosch counterparts have managed a rather paltry eleven tries.

When the two teams take to the same field again on Saturday, this time against each other, it will take a Herculean effort on the hosts’ part to win the day.

Paul Roos haven’t really reaped the rewards their sound performances this winter have deserved, the last seven weeks having included setbacks against Paarl Gym (19-20), Waterkloof (25-38), Grey High (20-22) and Boishaai (9-21).

Fair enough, these defeats have been balanced out by some very impressive victories against HTS Drostdy (32-19), a 29-24 thriller away to SACS and last week’s emphatic 52-15 thrashing of hosts Rondebosch. 

Interesting, isn’t it, that their last two wins have been away from home, while the last two defeats have been at Saturday’s venue, the Markotter.

Oakdale seems to have been dabbling in what archrivals Boland Landbou perfected a few seasons ago: losing by two or three points.  However, the frustration is ratcheted up considerably when one bears in mind that these achingly narrow defeats have come at the hands of such potential scalps as Paarl Gym (27-31), Outeniqua (15-19) and Boishaai (31-36).

This weekend’s visit to Matieland represents their last chance of beating WP Premier A opposition until their end-of-season derby clash with Boland Landbou in Riversdale.  Actually, the only other excitement they can look forward to between the Maroons and the Windmeul Warriors is fixtures against EP ‘s Marlow and Framesby.

Although this should serve as enough of an incentive to the Bulls, they haven’t been impressive away from home and the Markotter is a very daunting place to try to reverse that trend.

Saturday is the last occasion on which Stellenberg face Premier A opposition this season.  Apart from Cape Schools fixtures against Muir and Dale and a visit from HTS Drostdy early next term, the romantic part of their campaign is almost over and with it might come an impending sense of anti-climax.

Beaten by three of the four top-flight teams they have faced this winter, the Jade Brigade would dearly love to close this chapter with an emphatic bang.  Hopefully, it would go some way to assuaging the self-doubt brought on by single point defeats at the hands of Bishops and Boland Landbou.

In both cases, the top tier sides launched stunning second-half fightbacks which were remarkable in equal parts both for the size of the deficits the two Bs had to wipe out and the Stellies’ apparent inability to stem the tide.

Wynberg has had a hard time of it since returning from the KES Easter Festival, even if they can take a measure of comfort from two of their recent defeats - 30-40 to Grey High and 20-24 to Bishops.  However, both these games were played at home.

The strong probability that second-tier Stellenberg might beat them is hardly likely to lift their spirits.  On the positive side, an away victory would provide just a glimmer of momentum for the trying months ahead in which the Berg face only fellow A-listers, starting with a trip to SACS on 24 June.  

If the above doesn’t satisfy you, take a trip up to Tygerberg.  The locals’ nice run of results is more due to the standard of the teams they have played than thanks to their own brilliance.  

Either way, HTS Drostdy are bound to have the same effect as a bucketful of cold water – to the home team as well as a curious public who haven’t had the chance to witness their special brand of rugby locally this year.

Next Saturday is a rest day, except for the secret brotherhood of WP Under 16 and 18 teams who head for the Coastal Unions Circus in Oudtshoorn.