The 2017 Season Takes Shape

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Plain sailing !  Rondebosch’s SA Schools star Mike Mavovana scores one of his two tries in
his side's 32-26 end-of-season win at Bishops while his Platinum Blue counterpart,
Brandon van der Westhuizen, is too late to intervene. (photo: Robert Gad)

Thanks to the various extraordinary distractions to which we have recently been increasingly exposed, it seems like ages since the schools rugby season ended, even though it’s only been some ten weeks.

Well, last week this site was able to publish the provisional fixture list for the three provinces that together comprise the Western Cape, thanks to sterling work by local workhorse Howard Wilson and the co-operation of efficient sports organizers from Vredendal to George.

Please note that, while just about all the fixtures are as good as finalized, some tweaking may still take place plus there’s a whole lot more to come, not least the Boland regional league and trials arrangements. 

While the fixtures themselves need no explanation, several related factors and trends do raise the eyebrows enough to elicit comment.

Paarl schools draw the line at Interschools

While this has been in the theoretical pipeline for some time, Boys’ High and neighbours Gym have finally taken the plunge and indicated that in future they will not be playing any matches after their Faure Street face-off on Saturday 5 August 2017.

Paarl Gym will, however, be honouring their annual date with Outeniqua in George on 19 August 2017, but whether this will continue in its present late-season slot in the years to come remains to be seen.

With Boys’ High taking five teams on a four-match tour of New Zealand, starting at the end of March and ending five days before their St John’s commitments, few can begrudge them an early end to the season. 

Although they host Outeniqua on 22 April, Boishaai will be playing nine tough festival games in Kiwiland, Gauteng and Kimberley before they face their first local opposition !  No-one is going to accuse them of goofing off !

Paarl Gym to play Affies annually

It seems that the big guns in Tshwane – or at least their headmasters – are once again at loggerheads about whom to grace with a fixture and whom not to.   

The result leaves the local elite, Affies, with a gap on their dance-card, one which they and Paarl Gym have decided to fill with a home-and-away date starting in Paarl on Saturday 25 March 2017.  It is bound to be a truly massive encounter ! 

Interesting – is it not – that yesterday’s (figuratively speaking) player-import pariahs, Waterkloof, are suddenly occupying the moral high ground while Garsfontein get the cold shoulder. 

Garsies have developed player-pinching into such a fine art that they even have a very active agent in Darling of all places !  That’d be the guy who spirited Embrose Papier away from Swartland a few years ago, but who obviously doesn’t rate his brother Gregan – who should wear the no. 9 jumper for Hopefield next season – as highly.

There’s also talk of Garsies coming down to the Porterville Hoe-Down on 25 March, doubtless with an extra couple of seats provisionally booked for the return trip !  Maybe they’ll be on the same plane as Affies.  Or not.  

Who has the toughest programme ?

Apart from the Paarl giants, Boland has a pretty steep slope ahead of them. 

They start with EG Jansen and Garsfontein at the North-South event, followed soon after by Grey College and Monument at Wildeklawer, Framesby and Wynberg on the Farm, a visit to Stellenberg, a home date with Paul Roos, Cape Schools at Rondebosch and an all-Premier A (away to Boishaai and Rondebosch, home to Bishops and Paul Roos) run-in to their battle royal against Oakdale in Riversdale.

Although that list is punctuated with a few out-weekends, two weeks off before Easter and the mid-year vacation, it’s still going to be tough for the Farmers, which is just how Oloff Bergh’s spirited youngsters like it.

And the Premier B sides ?

With not much left to prove after last year’s Everest expedition, Stellenberg have a slightly more sedate 2017. 

True, they do visit Paarl Gym on Friday 17 March, take on Waterkloof and Menlopark at N-S 2017 and face EG Jansen and HTS Middelburg at Wildeklawer, but they have the comfort of home of home advantage when they play Bishops, Outeniqua, Rondebosch and Boland Landbou in the second term.  In fact, they only have three away games : at Bellville on 29 July, Primrose RFC (whom they’ll probably offer to host as well) on 19 August and arch-rivals Durbanville a week later !  

The Jade Brigade have further fortified their coaching staff with the acquisition of Brackenfell head-coach Corné Kannemeyer, which probably heralds the promotion of the ever-affable Duppie into the position of manager.  Enjoy the emotional downgrade, squire, you certainly deserve it !

By way of contrast, 2016 B-league winners Brackenfell have a pretty undemanding winter ahead of them with only a mid-May visit from SACS to break the monotony.

Other traditional bright sparks Tygerberg face mostly Premier B opposition with the occasional C-tier stroll against the likes of Tygerberg RFC, Primrose RFC and Parel Vallei.  Not even home games against HTS Drostdy and Swartland can elevate their roster to an even mildly demanding level. 

In fact, it is Durbanville who have opted for a relatively daunting programme, hosting Bishops, SACS and Rondebosch in addition to testing their strength away to Outeniqua in mid-August.

Cape Schools Weekend

While there are no surprises in the Eastern Cape contingent (Grey High, Selborne, Dale, Queens and Muir), Wynberg will be rejoining the usual local suspects (Rondebosch, SACS and Boland Landbou) after opting out of the 2015 event, while upwardly-mobile Stellenberg have accepted an invitation to stand in for Paarl Gym, who have asked to be excused from participating next year. 

The festival – to be hosted by Rondebosch at the end of the second term, on Saturday 1 and Monday 3 July – will be a two-day event by agreement of all the parties at the 2015 festival held at Grey.

This decision should be seen in the context of growing calls for the four major Easter festivals to be reduced to just two days, proponents of that argument citing the increasing number of games leading teams are being required to play (and the concomitant risk of over-exposure to injury), and this before the season has even effectively started.

Rondebosch have had the courage to take matters a step further, formally requesting KES to allocate them just two matches at the latter’s in April.

The current format means that even the biggest names are subjected to extremely demanding matches, particularly when they are drawn to face teams desperate to cement their place in the higher echelons of the national rankings, in the hope that this will be an effective marketing tool in attracting young talent through their gates in the years to come. 

Granted, these games may offer such aspirants the only real opportunity they get to mix things up with the top schools, but sanity must prevail.  Schools perhaps need to take a step back and get a less skewed perspective on things.  Rugby is a sport and should resist being blown out of proportion by those who refuse to see the wood for the trees.

Don’t forget the little big guys !

Any thoughts that c-stratum Parel Vallei might not be up to matching their rhetoric with action have been laid to rest.  Thinus Pienaar has lined up a demanding roster for the lads from the Helderberg region : two home games – against DF Malan (22 April) and Strand (27 May) – punctuate visits to Monument Park (13 May), Wynberg (3 June), Tygerberg (19 August) and Bellville (26 August).  Go get ‘em, boys !  

Enough for now – sit back and enjoy the rest of the summer !

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