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WP 2012 in Review: Part I

Thu, 06 Sep 2012 08:33
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The reveiew will be in three parts. Tis part deals with the Western Province Premier A League plus Outeniqua of South Western Districts.

Five and a half months ago the opening salvo in the 2012 Western Cape schools rugby season was fired, but it seems like a lot longer to the countless people thrilled week in and week out by the exhilarating displays to which we have become so gratefully accustomed.

There will always be earnest disagreements about who would’ve beaten whom, were it not for the venue/referee/injuries/weather/wind/provincial curfews/exams/whatever. Most of us just write it off to experience; after all, if we didn’t, our mundane existences would be heading for a downward spiral. These are indeed the very variables which contribute that vital element of uncertainty that makes the game simultaneously so unpredictable and so exciting.

To review the 2012 season fairly one must avoid the pitfalls of affording such factors any priority.

One has become so accustomed to one of the Paarl giants leading the Western Province pack that the only real surprise was how both of them dominated the local season.

Paarl Boys’ High may have lost Interschools, but most people would place them on top of the pile, given Gym’s slip-ups at the end of the year and, more importantly, the two sides’ respective results against next year’s tip for even higher national recognition, Outeniqua.

The Strepies’ pack was not made up of huge units; instead they played with a cohesion that made them one huge unit. Their duty was always going to be to get the ball to the backs, which is where their trump cards lay. First among equals was the front row of skipper Craig Corbett, Liam Hendricks and Wesley Adonis, all of whom were capped for the province, the last two also gaining SA colours.

The unflappable gold nugget that was scrumhalf Pieter Schoonraad made quite sure that platinum-plated decision-maker Jean-Luc du Plessis was given carte blanche either to wreak his own irrepressible brand of havoc on opposing defences or utilise a delightful backline in which players such as Danté van der Merwe, Darian Hock and, later on, Dewald Naudé, brought crowds to their feet.  

The nice thing, though, is that even they were fallible, as Interschools showed!

Paarl Gym boasted some daunting forwards, with JD Schickerling, Rikus Bothma, Jacques Vermeulen and Corné Cooper posing an intimidating threat to their opponents. The fact that the last three were the loose trio gives one a hint of the team’s attacking platform.

The awesome achievements of flyhalf extraordinaire Handré Pollard aside, Bothma must rank as the northern Paarl outfit’s player of the season.

Out back Wesley Cupido and Grant Hermanus might have been chosen for Western Province Schools, but the all-round brilliance of inside centre Altus Momsen often meant the difference between victory and defeat. His demonic tackling is already the stuff of myths, but don’t forget that he also ran in 16 tries! Had he been born just a couple of days later, our Craven Week side’s defence would have been so much firmer.

Maybe they don’t enjoy quite the elevated ranking of the Paarl sides, but Outeniqua fully warrant inclusion among the field guns of the Western Province.

A side brimming with the confidence that comes from top-class coaching, superbly led by captain Tinus Vermeulen, it is hardly surprising that they were the only Western Cape school to breach the magical 100-try barrier. Left wing Duhan van der Merwe accounted for 18 of these, but there is a wealth of talent throughout the three-quarters the likes of which one rarely comes across.

Quicksilver flyhalf Dewald Human, utility backs Remu Malan and Leighton Eksteen and ringmaster Ricky Gelant are very hard to contain especially when their pack supply them with a rich stream of good front-foot ball. Four of these backs will be tormenting opponents again next season!  

Blessed with such continuity, the Quaggas must be pushing for a Top 3 ranking in 2013.

Boland Landbou started sluggishly, but built steadily into an accomplished unit.

It was to be the backs that drew the bulk of attention, both good and bad. However, the tendency for the midfield to be seized by moments of inexplicable panic appeared to have been ironed out with the reintroduction of Tian Nel, the Piketberg Postsman, at flyhalf, which meant the release of Heinrich Bühr to his position of choice, full-back.  

While this year’s real heroes might have been the front rowers Evert Grobbelaar, Matthys Basson and brilliant Energizer Bunny Arno van Wyk, rest assured, Nel and Bühr will be the backbone of the team of 2013.

Despite impressive starts, either locally or overseas, it was Wynberg who outshone southern suburbs rivals SACS and Rondebosch.

Three long years in the creation, the team rigorously adhered to the carefully-planned intro to the season and never truly fell apart as only the four out-of-town sides lowered their colours.

They constitute proof of the contention that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nobody really stood out above anyone else as devotion to the team ethic enjoyed precedence with outstanding results.

The local grand slam (home and away victories in all the southern suburbs derbies) will probably enjoy second place to their first-ever win at Grey High School at the latter’s 150th birthday celebrations.

It’s safe to say that spunky outer backs Justin Scott, Jarred Sage, Josh de Stadler and diminutive Darryn Rix really restored the love to Lovers Walk. Not bad in a side that could always count on veteran warhorse Sikhumbuso Notshe!

Poor Paul Roos! Not really, one supposes, if you can fork out around R500 000 for a coach whose achievements this season might just give Heyneke Meyer sleepless nights – but only if Disney release them on video – and this in addition to opening a facility of international quality to boost your profile.

An encouraging start was quickly scuppered by home defeats to Grey High and Tygerberg, after which this submarine spent far too much time in the dry dock and, even though they won 60% of their matches, tended to ship alarming amounts of water when it did put to sea.

As if patchy form wasn’t enough to contend with, rumours of internal dissent didn’t help paint a pretty picture, either. On their day players of the quality of Ramone Samuels, Chad Solomons (both SA Schools caps) and Jason Worral should have been exploiting weaknesses in opposing defences, not concerning themselves with off-the-field distractions.

The result was something like having nuclear weapons without the launch codes.

HTS Drostdy had two things going for them and one against. In their favour was their massive pack and homeground advantage, while a pretty ordinary backline went a long way towards leveling the playing field, so to speak.

Prop Wilco Louw earned his SA colours with some astonishing demolition work up front, which, when supplemented by the energetic hammerblows of captain Izak Burger on the flank and No.8 Hanro Liebenberg, was the sum extent what they had to offer.

Generally, however, it proved quite adequate, as their record attests. It just seems a pity that they couldn’t replicate their performance against St Benedict’s (61-17, 11 tries) at the Wynberg Festival. Mind you, even then the threequarters dotted down only four times.

Burger’s drives yielded 18 tries. He was virtually unstoppable within twenty metres of opponents’ trylines, but there is a nagging feeling that he might also prove to be irreplaceable. Fellow loosie Hanro Liebenberg may be as good a player, but plays a markedly different game.

So, how did they do so well, despite their obvious shortcomings? Simple, Kelly Olivier’s kicking. In close contests, he seldom let Messrs Matthee and Cilliers down.

As it turned out, apart from their 61-18 thrashing at Brug Street, only Hugenote was able to crack their code and force the Donkeys to play outside of their pattern.

In 2012 SACS turned a corner that had been in view a long time. What the statistics don’t tell one is that, were it not for some tough early assignments and two epic defeats against Wynberg, these two rivals could easily have swapped places.

While outstanding scrumhalf Cameron Calder and prolific pointsman Chris Smith generally garnered the headlines, mention must also be made of the opportunism of centre Leighton van Wyk.

Finding himself in the enviable position of playing off Jean-Luc du Plessis and Jason Worral at the final Western Province trials, he turned in a head-turning performance, which saw him catapulted into the Western Province Academy side and then into the SA squad. Serious contender for the success story of the local season!

Rondebosch do deserve some kindness on the injury front. They were crippled early on by the loss of a number of key players they could not replace.

Nevertheless, good wins at the Wynberg Festival and a stunning 12-5 home success against Drostdy helped to record a 50% win ratio.

Tyren Lee’s development as a thinking flyhalf – to go with his lovely kicking style – will probably be the aspect for which most will remember the Canigou Carnivores this year.  

And so to Bishops, whose abject season would seem to make them easy prey for the caustic reviewer. That might be the case if they simply lay down and cringed. To their credit, they didn’t: even when getting slaughtered out at Boishaai, they still gave it their all.

Hard as it may be to believe, given their ever-competitive nature, epitomised by no-one more so than by indefatigable hooker Cuan Hablutzel, the talent they did have failed to coalesce. Every conceivable thing that could go wrong did so. Spectacularly. It happens when two pivotal players spend 90% of the winter on the treatment table.

Never before for the Platinum Blues, and, most probably, never again.

Part II, dealing with the Western Province Premier B sides plus the other major SWD teams will be up in a few days’ time.

By Tony Stoops

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