It quickly became obvious that Outeniqua were going to be the top team in the South Western Districts this year. What did surprise some was just how far behind their local competition lagged.
Oakdale did manage to win twelve of their 21 outings, but Punt, Oudtshoorn and Langenhoven Gym had to be content with 50% win records, which is well below their usual achievements.
Much of the Riversdale Bulle’s success can be attributed to the extraordinary form of just two of their players, No.8 Jandré Rudolph and centre Lex Botha.
Rudolph’s four-try contribution in the N2 derby against Punt served to emphasise his true value. He managed 16 tries, Botha bagged 13, and prop Kabous van Schalkwyk, who didn’t quite scale the heady heights he attained in 2011, accounted for another eight.
Goalkicking seemed to be a problem as well, the advent of the successful Paul Streicher coming a bit too late to save the season.
All in all, theirs was a frustrating winter, which, sad to say, came to an appropriately disappointing end in a display which was thoroughly forgettable – for more than one reason – against Boland Landbou.
Oudtshoorn had been riding a wave for several years, thanks largely to the enormous input of their talismanic scrumhalf Percy Williams. His eventual departure left a glaring void that not even the presence of experienced backs such as Dean January, Ganfried May and Divan Nel could fill.
Nel’s boot did ensure that they remained competitive, but, when you consider that flank Jolin Saptou was their leading try-scorer on five, the struggle they faced to penetrate opposing defences becomes all too apparent.
A 57-7 thrashing on their home field at the hands of Oakdale effectively put paid to Langenhoven Gym’s season. Less heavy defeats against Paarl Boys’ High and Outeniqua did little to raise their fragile morale.
Flank Wikus Oosthuizen’s five tries went unsurpassed and pivot DJ Potgieter’s scant haul totalled a meagre 56 points, highlighting the difficulty that they, like Oudtshoorn and Punt, face in their annual search to find opposition of a similar standard without running up astronomical fuel bills.
Punt didn’t really play enough games to create a form guide, but a massive 53-5 hiding at Boland Landbou’s 50th birthday bash in March and similarly wide losing margins against Oakdale (41-5) and Outeniqua (48-3) meant they were staring a particularly bleak season in the face.
But the energy that has been put into the game in Mossel Bay by people such as well-travelled newcomer Tian Stemmet did bear some late fruit as they beat Oudtshoorn, highly-rated Overberg and finally their Interschools rivals Langenhoven Gym as the campaign drew to a close, the upward swing in their fortunes owing much to the graft of flank Louis Biziaco and centre Ruan Terblanche.
The Western Province Premier B league was dominated by Strand this year, although it took just one inexplicable defeat against Bellville High (26-27, after leading 26-3 at half time) to consign them to the runners-up spot behind the northern suburbs team.
The Strandlopers played beautiful attacking rugby, 55 of their 81 tries coming from the virtually injury-free backline. Marshall Daars gave his flyhalf, which varied between Stewart Jacobs and Lorenzo Appollis, marvelous ball which helped create countless opportunities for the likes of Diego Visagie, Marshall Douman and the elusive Quiwen Bauman, who dotted down twenty times.
As if that wasn’t enough, they could also rely on the unerring accuracy of captain Deon Taljaard’s boot. His impressive 200 points for the year saw him finish second behind Chris Smith of SACS in the local scorers’ chart.
Although Bellville technically topped the B league log, they suffered several reversals that underscored the chasm between theirs and the A division.
Drostdy, Oakdale and Boland Landbou all rocked their confidence, but players like wing Michael Liebenberg (13 tries), No.8 Dewald la Grange (10 tries) and nippy captain Jean Strydom at halfback, who tossed 152 points into the mix, made sure that they repelled all would-be boarders from their local comfort zone.
It would have been nice for them to have played Tygerberg, if only to see which Tiere team pitched up.
If ever there was a schizophrenic season it was the one experienced by Parow’s finest, Tygerberg. They soared to lofty heights against Waterkloof (losing 19-20, in Pretoria), Paul Roos (a stunning 22-20 away win) and Rondebosch (thumped 38-17, also away), only to plummet to unimaginable depths (12-62 against Centurion, 3-75 down at Paarl Gym, 12-21 to Bishops at home and 17-21 against tiny Dirkie Uys) for no apparent reason.
The highlights of their season must include Morné Nortier’s selection for the Craven Week side, Shane Griundlingh’s chart-topping 21-try haul and the sparkling form of young halfbacks TJ Goddard and Morné Kotze.
A side in the process of rebuilding, the Tygers will be back to their roaring best sooner rather than later.
Stellenberg started encouragingly in KwaZulu Natal and progressed steadily throughout the year, even capturing the much-savoured scalp of Bishops at the Swartland Festival.
Like Strand, they had a slick backline anchored by adroit flyhalf Arnoldus Laubscher and centre Malan Roode, but it was the mobility and combination of their forwards that allowed them to shine.
Unfortunately, defeats to Tygerberg (10-31) and Bellville (15-25) and a less-than-satisfying 3-3 Interschools stalemate against Durbanville dulled the lustre of a fine season.
Considering that the Durbies had to start pretty well from scratch after last year’s wunderteam, they can be reasonably satisfied with their report card, the wheels only really coming off against Wynberg (12-42) and Hugenote (3-47).
Their league record was quite satisfactory, although they almost let De Kuilen off the hook before winning 22-21.
However, leading try-scorers left wing Jeremy Esselaar and outside centre Leendert van Leperen only touched down thirteen times between them, pointing to a backline starved of its fair share of the ball.
While Monument Park’s statistics look pleasantly reassuring at first glance, deeper inspection reveals that the sides they beat were just about all from lower leagues than themselves.
One is tempted to surmise that their crushing 37-17 hiding at Interschools rivals Vredenburg, themselves a very average team, and the fact that only No.8 André Theron (seven tries) managed to cross opponents’ lines on more than three occasions probably reflect their troubled year rather more accurately than do their successes against minnows like Fairbairn College, Trafalgar and President.
For the rest (De Kuilen, Brackenfell, HTS Bellville and DF Malan), the less said, the better. Sure, they are trying manfully, but the results have not borne this out.
For some bizarre masochistic reason De Kuilen start every year with a game against Outeniqua. Having shipped 52 points in that one, what confidence a great 2011 had established was shattered.
A heartwarming 24-19 victory at Tygerberg was counterbalanced by resounding drubbings at the hands of Paul Roos (55-0) and Boland Landbou (55-10). They also lost at home to less-than-stunning Brackenfell and HTS Bellville.
However, their support base remains strong and they will surely rattle a few cages come 2013.
The only striking aspect that stands out in the season of the other three teams in this group is the astonishing game in which Brackenfell, 12-10 up at water-time against DF Malan, seemed to telescope their entire season’s efforts into the next 35 minutes to thunder home 52-10.
That, regrettably, was about the sum total of the excitement generated by the three Premier B stragglers.
Part III: Boland will follow.
By Tony Stoops