Fleet of foot. Elegant Rondebosch outside centre DJ Falconer stretches his legs
in his side’s 38-12 victory over KES, in which he contributed three tries, at
last year’s Wynberg Rugby Festival. (photo: Robert Gad)
“In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” From Locksley Hall by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
That may well be true, but, as autumn looms in South Africa, everybody’s fancy turns to schoolboy rugby, if the crowds of excited spectators are anything to go by.
In accordance with tradition this will article hopefully serve as a tasty appetiser for the season ahead, by taking a look at those 1st XV players from 2016 who will be available again for the major Western Cape teams this season.
Let me add the standard disclaimer that there is absolutely no suggestion on my part that a large group of returnees will guarantee a brilliant campaign for their respective sides.
And so, in alphabetical order :
Bishops basically only have their midfield back from last season. Much of the playmaking is likely to fall to inside centre Rob Macdonald, who will have part-timer George Spencer outside him. Wings Murray Bruce and pocket battleship Ross Goodwin represent a definite attacking threat, but they will be relying on a very largely untried pack to provide them with anything like the service that they require to keep the Platinum Blues competitive.
The only forward with any experience to speak of is lock Ross Doyle. Last year’s eight struggled to deliver, effectively cutting the supply line to the school’s perennial strongpoint and, one suspects, it is going to take a mighty effort to realise the school’s full potential once again.
First match : vs Porterville at Porterville on Saturday 25 March 2017.
At first glance, Boland Landbou are going to be a potent force locally and nationally. Where have you heard that before ? Here, I’m afraid. The Farmers invariably get saddled with the handicap of lofty expectations. However, if people can keep their hopes in check, this should be a side that will turn on the magic in its own good time.
The focus will be sharply on the brilliant talents of the three musketeers in the backline. Centre Durin Nasson was in superb form for large parts of last campaign, while Duren Hoffman notched seven tries as well as proving a dependable point-scorer, be it on the wing, at outside centre or even in the role of pivot.
Luther McKay on the right wing came into his own as he fitted into the backline, while JG Basson will be looking to establish himself wide on the left.
Five forwards will form the sturdy skeleton of the Landbou heavy artillery. Formidable props Albert Coetzee and Christiaan Olivier (loose- and tighthead respectively) bring more than enough savvy among the big men and locks Marko van Niekerk and Herman le Roux are hardly untried beginners. The cherry on the top in this department is definitely flank Henro Meyer, who developed remarkably alongside last year’s predators-in-chief, flank and captain Heinrich Brendel and tireless no 8 Kevin Reed.
First match : vs Windhoek High at Paul Roos Day on Saturday 25 March.
Oakdale, like neighbours Outeniqua, always seem to lose the majority of their personnel at the end of each campaign, only to emerge from the shadows of the N2 with another crop of trusty warriors.
Team 2017 does have a relatively new look to it, but the veterans boast a great deal of experience, particularly in the cauldrons of the Craven and Academy Weeks.
Great things are expected from Craven Week loosehead Dian Bleuler, even if the only other forward from last season is Academy Week lock JC Lourens, who is tipped to fill one of the loose forward berths this winter.
With the notable exception of Craven Week centre Jay-Cee Nel, who will doubtless be the go-to kicker this season, all the backs available again were at best bit-part players. Right wing Luke Hertz will probably shift to outside centre, Pietie Uys looks set for either the left-wing or full-back berth, while bench (despite Academy Week colours) scrumhalf Lian du Toit will continue the family tradition behind the Bulls’ scrum.
First match : vs France Under 17 at Paul Roos Day on Saturday 25 March.
Despite predictions of gloom and doom by one or two insiders, Outeniqua seem to have the makings of an at least workable squad.
Lock Louis Meiring picked up valuable experience at last year’s Craven Week and will be grateful for the presence of regular flanker Ruben Coetzee. But, don’t be disheartened: like the Bulls, the Quaggas never fail to step up to the plate, come scrum time.
The backline has a more familiar look to it. Replacement scrumhalf Aylen Schabort will look to solidify a strong partnership with returning flyhalf James-Henry Mollentze, who would have been first choice at pivot were it not for a lengthy spell on the touchlines in 2016 as the result of injury.
Two Academy Week caps round out the framework of the backline. Emilio Otto, a utility back, who did some duty on the right wing, is expected to slot in at outside centre, with Darryl Fortuin either retaining his fullback berth or taking over from Otto wide on the right.
First match : vs Brackenfell at Brackenfell Rugby Day on Saturday 25 March.
If you weren’t convinced by my warning above that a team’s fortunes cannot in any way be linked to the number of returning players, try looking at Paarl Boys’ High.
Unless something terrible happens on their travels starting off in late March, Boishaai is definitely expected to be at or very near the top of the charts, despite their being able to call on only two 2016 regulars campaign.
The enviable resources at every age-group level can be relied on to ensure another powerhouse team down Brug Street way, but, if that doesn’t fill you with apprehension, bear in mind that flank Francke Horn, one of the most highly rated loose forwards in the country, will be working his magic at a whole new level this winter with have fellow Academy Week cap Vian Fourie at his side.
Left wing Thaakir Abrahams, a nine-try revelation last season, will be more than happy to round off as many of the opportunities that come his way as possible.
Most people would regard a rugby tour of New Zealand as the high point of their sporting lives. Not Boishaai. Their intense focus will be on continuing their unbeaten run of the past two seasons.
First match : vs as yet unconfirmed opposition in New Zealand towards the end of March.
Neighbours Paarl Gym may have a few more experienced players around which to build their side, but in one case they create a problem rather than solving it.
The north Paarl unit has three quality props in the Staples twins, Adriaan and François, and last year’s Academy Week strongman Daniël Wessels, who spent the whole year in the second team. All three can play on either side of the front row, but none of them has played in the middle of it. Let’s hope Helmut Lehmann finds a way of accommodating everyone.
Giant Namibian lock Adriaan Ludick is bound to be a major force in the forward exchanges this season, particularly given his outstanding performances as first receiver in the tight loose towards the end of 2016. It came as no surprise when flank Henco Martins was named in the national Under 18 sevens squad, given his formidable prowess as a sprinter and the fact that he started his high school career at Tygerberg. Much is expected of this youngster, who will probably move to the back of the scrum this season.
The only back available from last year is also arguably the most lethal threequarter in the province, 2016 SA Schools left wing Muller du Plessis, whose dazzling bursts from a standing start have caught just about every opposing team unawares, inevitably to their regret.
But, will Gym be able to supply him with enough good ball to strut his stuff ?
First match : vs Stellenberg at Stellenberg on Friday 17 March.
While Paul Roos retain the services of only three regular forwards, two of them are their fiery props Craven Week cap Tristan Leitch and Cameron Dawson. Behind them, the Maroons will be relying heavily on the impressive work rate of lock Phillip van Dyk to ensure them quality possession.
After two glorious Willemse/Vermeulen years, it is rebuilding time in the backline. Only substitute scrumhalf Gerado Jaars and right wing Colia Louis have any substantial first team game-time under their belts and a lot of Markotter fans will be holding their collective breath ahead of the school’s rugby day.
First match : vs HTS Drostdy at the Paul Roos Rugby Day on 25 March.
And so to Rondebosch, who have a stunning nine veterans ready to re-enter the fray.
Four of these – hooker Suhaib Ajmoodien, prop Chulu Mputing, lock Braden Tredoux and loose forward Cal Smid – will be able to supply a fairly young pack with plenty of tips learned the hard way in the heat of battle.
However, it is the backline which retains the basis of last year’s unit which entertained spectators throughout the province so consistently.
Half-back extraordinaire Robbie Davis, so pivotal to the team’s success, is expected to retain the no. 9 jumper, with last year’s inside centre van der Bijl Blake, who spent a large part of last winter sidelined with injury – and who (gasp !) comes from Malmesbury – the favourite to slot in at flyhalf.
Although left wing Ross Roode will be trying all his trademark stepping moves, perhaps the best news of all concerns the centre pairing.
While the 12 jersey is strongly rumoured to be handed to Zaka Sallie, who was used as a sort of jack-of-all-trades in midfield and at the back of the scrum in 2016, there is little doubt that it is exciting outside centre DJ Falconer, who will be causing defences the most problem with his direct attacking style.
First match : vs Pietersburg at TSRF 2017 at Brackenfell on Saturday 1 April.
SACS are in a very similar position, even if they can only call on flank Tom Robinson from last year’s pack.
By contrast, their back division has an all-too-familiar feel to it with five of last campaign’s first choice quick men raring to get back into action.
A year together has given the half-back pairing of Craven Week no. 9 Lucky Dlepu and pivot David Hayes the opportunity to develop a very sound understanding, which will help launch the midfield of Chad van der Loo – who served as understudy to Nick Redelinghuys last winter – and the irrepressible, unpredictable talent that is Jordy Hop.
Not satisfied yet ? Well, toss in left wing Zolani Masembathe and Mr Dependable full-back Michael Abrahams and you have enough of last year’s accomplished unit to fill the school’s unwavering supporters with more than a little optimism.
First match : vs Ligbron at TSRF 2017 at Brackenfell on Saturday 1 April.
Not to be outdone, Wynberg, who will be determined to consign a pretty miserable 2016 to the distant past, also boast loads of savvy out back.
For scrumhalf Matt Doyle, centres Ryan Biscombe and Chris Colborne and wide-men Siya Nombakuse and Max Jewell, last winter will hopefully have been one long, fruitful period spent on a protracted learning curve. Shoring up a porous defence will be the first priority of coach Justin van Winkel on his return to the hot seat.
The only tight forward back for more is prop Nicholas Witte, but the Berg’s being able to harness two older and wiser loose forwards in Inga Halu and Cameron Bowes does add some strength to their defence around the edge of the tight loose.
First match : vs KES at KES Easter Festival on Thursday 13 April.