The outcome is that things have become so lop-sided that, while the little guys have fair representation, this has come at the expense of nationally recognised big guns Hugenote and HTS Drostdy
Two years ago Boland went through Craven Week unbeaten, crushing, inter alia, Natal en route. Sadly, last year's crop fell miserably short of those dizzy heights, with accusations of actions bordering on the criminal being levelled at several squad members during the Kimberley event.
That has now been consigned to memory, but now two recurrent stumbling blocks, refereeing and selection, neither of which, dare I say it, are confined solely to this province, have affected this year’s Craven Week team from the very start.
The former has become all too relevant to the latter, mainly because of a recent proclamation that all First XV matches between Boland schools must be refereed by Boland officials. The only solution to this seems to be for Boland schools to arrange as many games as possible against Western Province and SWD opposition, which deprives selectors of the chance to measure provincial candidates against each other.
What’s more, it’s nigh-on impossible for teams to produce normal rugby under the abnormal conditions that far too many of these whistlers provide. Collecting results by phone on Saturdays has devolved into patiently weathering a repetitive litany of complaints about incompetent refereeing, the unhappiness being voiced equally by winners and losers, home and away sides.
Personal experience can attest to the non-appearance of a referee for a Saturday game he had actually requested to be allotted, which resulted in the visiting school representative sounding off at the after-match function about this increasingly sad state of affairs, which, come to think of it, was pretty rich bearing in mind that getting a win in their home town is a lot less likely than peace in the Middle East.
The same fate afflicted the home side in the above example two weeks later in an away game and then the following week they discovered, to their immense dissatisfaction, that the scheduled referee, again for an out-of-town fixture, had apparently (and conveniently) been reallocated at the eleventh hour to a club match, which obviously took precedence. It is a harsh indictment that no-one was frankly surprised by this “excuse”. However, the resultant mess almost resulted in the visitors being called off the field.
Where were these referees? Earning money entertaining kids at birthday parties? It has been said that there is no money for referee development. Well, the union could start by giving up hosting piffling little Easter development festivals that have shown no sign of developing anything at all.
There are good officials out there too, but so many of their colleagues are doing so much (or little) that they all are being tarred with the same brush.
Referees aside, it is all too easy to put the selection hardships down to quota requirements with a slight difference to the normal connotations that unpleasant term carries. In this case it involves the necessity of conveying the impression that no area can claim to have been overlooked.
The outcome is that things have become so lop-sided that, while the little guys have fair representation, this has come at the expense of nationally recognised big guns Hugenote and HTS Drostdy.
Apparent favouritism is also disconcerting. One look at the trial teams would have suggested that the province’s strength lies in what can only be described as a suspiciously isolated domain, whose team has not set hearts racing this season. The bigger your representation at trials, the better your chances of some players making it into the sides, even if this is to the detriment of the provincial team.
Right, so what are the hopes for this year’s crop?
Not bad at all, actually.
The backline has a polished attacking sheen to it. Scrumhalf Corné Sharp (Augsburg Gim), a reliable source of points for his side, is paired with running flyhalf Colin Willemse (Langeberg) to serve an experienced quartet comprising centres Courtney Cupido (Worcester Gym) and Anzo Stubbs (Schoonspruit) and wings Chesné van Wyk (New Orleans) and Luwandré Visagie (Charlie Hofmeyr), all of whom have more than a year of First XV exposure.
Hooker François Esterhuyzen (Overberg) is such a formidable force in the loose that he actually plays No.8 for his school. Together with loosehead Wilco Louw (HTS Drostdy), he should give the scrum a sound footing. Gideon Koegelenberg (Hugenote), the captain, is one of the most impressive locks around, leading his unbeaten school team by near-faultless personal example, and the loose trio combines the height of Cobus Geldenhuys (Charlie Hofmeyr), the speed of Hilroy Baadjies (New Orleans) and the strength of Dian Koen (Hermanus).
The reserves include some players who might consider themselves unfortunate not to be first choices, but then at least they didn’t use that as a pretext to withdraw from the side as happened in one inland province.
HTS Drostdy’s Hanro Liebenberg is literally and figuratively massively influential in the loose, Erik Meyer (Porterville) learnt the front row trade alongside 2011 SA Schools cap Andrew Beerwinkel, scrumhalf Flippie Jacobs (Dirkie Uys) is as elusive as a flea in a hurricane and Chad Kleinsmidt (Hermanus) can be depended upon to provide a firm last line of defence.
Whether they will realise their collective potential is another matter entirely. However, if they can focus on the task at hand, when people talk of Boland as a sprawling province, they will be referring only to the vastness of its geographical area and not the ineptitude of its schools rugby community.
Boland Craven Week team: Hilroy Baadjies (New Orleans), Willbur Boonzaaier (Groendale), Ernst Claassen (Worecester Gim), Courtney Cupido (Worcester Gim), Francois Esterhuyzen (Overberg), Cobus Geldenhuys (Charlie Hofmeyr), Schalk Hugo (Worcester Gim), Phillip Jacobs (Dirkie Uys), Farrel Kelly (Drostdy), Chad Kleinsmidt (Hermanus), Gideon Koegelenberg (Hugenote) (captain), Dian Koen (Hermanus), Hanro Liebenberg (Drostdy), Paul Louw (Bonnievale), ilco Louw (Drostdy), Erik Meyer (Porterville), Floris Mostert (Cedarberg Academy), Corne Sharp (Augsburg Gim), Anzo Stubbs (Schoonspruit), Chesne van Wyk (New Orleans), Luwandré Visagie (Charlie Hofmeyr), Colin Willemse (Langeberg).
By Tony Stoops