MALMESBURY CELEBRATES AN OLD RIVALRY RENEWED
Time for the hard yards ! Swartland flank Cwenga Mgolombani tests the Porterville defence
during his side's 26-12 win at TSRF 2018 at Brackenfell in April. (photo: Martie Bester)
No match report this week, but a close look at how rugby is proceeding in a very competitive environment not too far from Cape Town.
Regular readers will know that the school sides in Malmesbury, Swartland and Schoonspruit, are very close to my heart. Although it is not possible to watch that many of their games, what with a wide supporter base to satisfy, the fact that the latter school tends to play a lot of their matches on Wednesdays does present regular opportunities.
The past week saw the re-emergence of the third local school, Wesbank, took to the field against Schoonspruit for the first time in around twelve years.
The reasons, political or otherwise, for their not having played each other for such a long period are not up for discussion here: very little of it has anything to do directly with rugby anyway. What is relevant, however, is the enormous success of the occasion.
While the Wesbank grounds in Malmesbury might not provide the most spectator-friendly environment to be found in schoolboy rugby, the massive crowd that turned out for the fixtures, which included a schoolgirl match on the B field, certainly deserves mention.
There was an impressive turn-out of past dignitaries from both schools, proudly wearing the insignia of the two institutions, but the size of the crowd – which must have included a large percentage of that half of this Swartland town – was the real eye-opener.
Rugby at Schoonspruit and Wesbank is currently being kept very much alive by two gentleman who have maintained their devotion to the cause through thick and thin.
The former owes much of its status to years of tireless service by Reynard “Vos” de Jager, who has risen to the position of deputy principal of the school, whereas Lionel Cicero is as influential when it comes to the game at Wesbank.
Fears that the occasion might be spoiled by any unpleasantness proved unfounded as learners from the two schools packed themselves into the small stand, from where they applauded every move by their own players and their opponents.
The fact that the main game was played as darkness encroached – floodlights were not an option as they had been stolen – in no way detracted from the keen rivalry.
Schoonspruit took the field without two regulars, excluded because, although they met all the other the criteria to play, they are not registered learners at the school.
Any expectations that Schoonspruit might simply steamroller their heavier opponents were dispelled by a close-fought first-half, in which the two teams took their time to come to terms with the huge interest the fixture had generated.
Tries by Schoonies flyhalf Connor Mahoney, inside centre Caylo Markus and full-back Jayron Appollis, all converted by the pivot, gave the lads in gold, white and maroon a 21-7 advantage at the break, scrumhalf Ricardo Isaacs having replied with a five-pointer for Wesbank, converted by outside centre Jayden September.
With the nerves a thing of the past, Schoonspruit gradually wore down their opponents’ defence to add further tries by lock Uclaine November, captain and Man of the Match no.8 Keanan Solomons, Mahoney, outside centre Keanen Majiedt and diminutive scrumhalf Ajay Larey, in response to which only September could reply.
The game ended with the score at 52-12, but the celebrations had just started. Both teams were mobbed by hordes of proud supporters, the pulsating throng of mass excitement more than vindicating the decision to stage the match.
Extra local opposition can only benefit the game, as more and more youngsters want to become part of such a special occasion. In the process, of course, both schools will improve and the spirit of the game will grow, increasing community spirit.
Across town the mood is somewhat less animated at Swartland after a series of indifferent results, which included a 24-19 home defeat in the derby against Schoonspruit, a rather fortuitous 26-20 victory over De Kuilen, thanks only to their opponents lacking a decent goalkicker, and an 18-15 loss to a young Charlie Hofmeyr team in Ceres.
The school is not enjoying a particularly strong period in its proud rugby history: all four Du Toit brothers are out in world at large and, quite apart from the often-publicised poaching of players by schools in the Nothvaal region, another one in the northern suburbs of Cape Town has also started to use of its hostel to avail itself of the local talent pool.
As if all the above didn’t cause enough concern, their visitors on Saturday were Langenhoven Gym, who had just thrashed local rivals Oudtshoorn 88-0 in their derby.
One of the reasons for this annual fixture is that ageless Swartland sports organizer/groundsman legend Freek Stander taught at Gym, then HTS Oudtshoorn, in a previous lifetime, so at least one person’s heart was guaranteed to be beating faster.
Sentiment aside, the small crowd witnessed an extraordinary game – largely in the negative sense of that word.
A couple of tries by hooker JP Groenewald and four penalties and a conversion by captain and flyhalf Ethan Diston saw the hosts cruising along 24-3 with twenty minutes to play.
What followed was a prime example of self-destruction by the Swartland backline. Kicks flew all over the place and all cohesion went out the window in a, frankly, shambolic display.
A penalty try filled the Oudtshoorn side with renewed hope and, with scrum-half Eaj Carew exploiting poor defence around the tight phases, it was left to his flyhalf partner Bradford Hendricks to wreak havoc.
Man of the Match Carew and outside centre Adrian Palmer both dotted down to turn a 21-point deficit into a three-point lead with eight minutes left.
And that was how it stayed. The spectators must have left with a strong sense of déjà vu: the Rockies had surrendered the Schoonspruit game by taking the ball to their backs. One would have thought they would have learnt in the intervening four weeks, but no.
And so the balance of power in Malmesbury is gradually shifting away from Swartland to Schoonspruit. It will take some serious introspection by the former’s coaching staff to arrest the slide.