Out with the old… A scene from the match between Klein Nederburg (in blue and yellow)
and Vredendal,won 18-12 by the latter, at the Maties Steinghoff Schools Rugby Day on
27 August,the last day of the 2016 season. (photo courtesy of Brakkies Sport Fotos)
A huge crowd was treated to a pulsating Western Province Premier league pipe-opener at Paarl Gym’s Jan Kriel field, which ended with the home team having to dig deep to defeat visitors Stellenberg 31-19.
A very warm (31 degree) afternoon gave way to an idyllic evening, a moderate breeze ensuring ideal conditions for the keenly-awaited clash between two of the top ten WP outfits. The fact that, between them, the two teams only fielded five players with 2016 top-flight experience further heightened the anticipation.
Gym moved straight onto the attack from the Stellies’ kick-off, rucking the ball upfield and being awarded a penalty by referee Pierre Rogers for a high tackle. When Stellenberg were trapped offside at the resultant line-out, huge lock Adriaan Ludick crashed through the defence from the tap penalty. (Paarl Gym 5 Stellenberg 0 – 2 minutes)
Another high tackle by Stellenberg from the restart allowed Gym pivot Rubin Scholtz to drive his former schoolmates back, but the relief was to be short-lived, as crisp passing by the northern suburbs backline created a small overlap for left-wing Steph Marais, usually an inside centre, to sprint over in the left-hand corner for the equalising try. (Paarl Gym 5 Stellenberg 5 – 7 minutes)
Paarl Gym replied in kind, setting up space for right wing Stravino Jacobs, but the flyer was tackled metres from the tryline. Fortunately Stellies flyhalf Nivan Petersen was immediately given a chance to drive Gym back when the hosts were penalised for illegal scrummaging.
The sides took turns to drive the ball upfield at a frenetic pace until a handling error finally gave everyone – the spectators included – a chance to catch their breath.
Petersen pushed Gym back with another raking penalty, but this did little to stem the hosts’ attacking flair, which was only kept in check by outstanding defensive commitment by the Jade Brigade.
Some early season misunderstandings briefly hindered play on both sides before Scholtz drove the visitors back to their 22 metre line from a penalty given for a scrum infringement. Gym attacked fiercely, but found provincial star Angelo Davids’ defence impenetrable. However, play remained within 30 metres of the visitors’ line until a beautifully-engineered set play by the backline saw left wing Hanco Hanekom cut through the Stellenberg backline to score a try which Scholtz converted. (Paarl Gym 12 Stellenberg 5 – 25 minutes)
Next it was the turn of Gym scrumhalf Hanno Geldenhuys to test the opposing defence, but his support failed him and the danger was averted when a speculative Gym kick-ahead was comfortably dotted down by Stellies’ full-back Roché Malan.
Gym were firmly in their stride and only a forward pass denied them their third try. Fine handling and deft footwork saw Jacobs ask questions of the visiting defence before a penalty gave the hosts the opportunity to set up an attacking line-out. A superb take off the top by lock and captain Ryno Beukes was whipped out to SA Under 19 Sevens star, no 8 Henco Martins, who had little difficulty breaching a stretched defence. Scholtz added the extras. (Paarl Gym 19 Stellenberg 5 – 33 minutes)
Undaunted, Stellenberg threw everything into attack, only to find Scholtz unshakeable in defence. Great line-out work by Jade Brigade lock Janko Swanepoel allowed Petersen to set up an attacking line-out, but the home side held out until the whistle sounded for the break. Half time : Paarl Gym 19 Stellenberg 5.
The Paarl side put their visitors under pressure from the restart with Marais having to perform heroically to stem the tide. Unfortunately, his efforts came to naught as the ball quickly found its way to Martins, who registered his second five-pointer, which Scholtz goaled easily. (Paarl Gym 26 Stellenberg 5 – 38 minutes)
With their confidence increasing by the minute, Gym maintained their ascendancy, only courageous Stellies tackling and a penalty for holding the ball on the ground preventing them from surging further ahead.
Not to be outdone, the Jade Brigade decided not to follow the script and flung the ball around exhilaratingly, closing to within five metres of the home side’s line. Gym wrecked their plans by gaining turn-over possession and sending right wing Jacobs on a 50 metre break, which was, in turn, ruined by a penalty for failing to release the ball.
Gym were their own worst enemies at this stage, committing far too many inexplicable offences, which gave Petersen free rein to probe their defences. Crucially, however, injuries to centres Leeuwner van der Merwe and the experienced Corné van Romburgh necessitated a Stellies rejig, which saw Steph Marais slot in in his preferred position and Ryno Marais come in on the left wing.
Scholtz gained relief with a lengthy touchfinder, after which a very ordinary attempted clearance gave Gym full-back Curt Mackier the chance to show his attacking verve. Undeterred, Petersen took the attack straight back to Gym and it was right-wing Davids who got the touchdown following a five-metre penalty, which the flyhalf converted. (Paarl Gym 26 Stellenberg 12 – 61 minutes)
Gym’s response was to make fifteen metres the hard way from a tap penalty, after which great line-out work by Beukes was undone by a penalty against one of his team-mates for not releasing the ball in the tackle, which allowed Stellenberg to move play back to their ten-metre line.
Gym flank Corné Uys broke neatly through the forwards, but found himself isolated, allowing the visitors to scramble the ball into touch, at which point, the only glaring error of the night presented Martins with the simplest of run-ins for his third try of the encounter. (Paarl Gym 31 Stellenberg 12 – 65 minutes)
The hosts relaxed ever so slightly and were reduced to fourteen men following a yellow card for a tip-tackle. With their concentration broken, Gym couldn’t quite withstand a concerted closing effort by the Jade Brigade, eventually conceding a penalty try in the final act of the game. Final score : Paarl Gym 31 Stellenberg 19.
The two sides’ prospects for the season ?
Let’s look at Gym first. The lofty expectations of the returning players – François Staples at tighthead, Ludick and Martins – may have shifted much of the spotlight off the newcomers, but this team shows signs of having already gelled very nicely.
Captain Ryno Beukes led with a fiery performance in the second row, while Uys and Dean Nieuwoudt both fed and fed off Martins to good effect. Hanro Geldenhuys sparkled at scrumhalf and Scholtz gave his threequarters a steady stream of quality ball, which Stravino Jacobs on the right wing in particular used to showcase his exciting potential.
Turning to the returning players, Henco Martins is going to be a huge factor this year. His fitness was a step ahead of everyone else, what with his Sevens experience earlier in the year and his outstanding athletic prowess. Ludick slowed down markedly in the latter stages of the match, but Staples’s solid showing gave notice that he has no intention of surrendering the no. 3 jersey to twin brother Adriaan without a fight.
Stellenberg were good value throughout, their exceptional player undoubtedly being lock Janko Swanepoel, whose build and phenomenal work-rate would have reminded locals of Johan Momsen, now starring for the Maties. If they had had another line-out option with his technical ability, the visitors might have done even better. The rest of the pack did everything together with the kind of relentless dedication that bodes well for the season ahead.
Flyhalf Nivan Petersen was always going to be on a hiding to nothing, having to fill the boots of 2016’s sublimely-talented Ewert Carstens. He undoubtedly has the skills, but it is vital that he acclimatises quickly for both his and his team’s sake. Next week’s match against Oudtshoorn will hopefully already see him move up a gear.
Outside him, Steph Marais looked great on the left wing and even more comfortable at inside centre, while the calming influence of no 13 Corné van Romburgh provided the ideal foil for the flair of Angelo Davids, the result being a delightfully well-balanced backline.
Now that the season is under way, seven days is a long time to have to wait for another helping, if this is the quality of fare to which the public is going to be treated this winter.