HOW IT SHOULD AND SHOULDN'T BE
It’s all in the hips ! Stellenberg right wing Jaydon Hickley (centre) wrongfoots a Muir opponent
in his side’s 40-10 win at the 2017 Cape Schools Festival at Rondebosch. In support
to his left is flank Johann van der Merwe. (photo: Shaun Roy Photography)
The end of another year. An ideal opportunity to highlight events which – to my mind – sum up the rather contrasting fortunes of the two largest unions in the Western Cape.
On the positive side, it was my privilege to be invited to the Western Cape leg of the 2017 Ruggas Awards on Friday 1 December at the majestic Parel Vallei High School overlooking Somerset West.
Part of the reason this venue was chosen was surely that this optimistically progressive institution was voted the Rugby School of the 2016 on the site hosting the event. And, rest assured, they aren’t resting on their laurels one bit: sports dynamo Thinus Pienaar’s foot is still firmly on the accelerator, even if they experienced something of a gap year in 2017.
The Western Cape’s big winners on this year’s national stage, Paarl Boys’ High, who scooped the Coach award (Sean Erasmus), Backline Player (Abner van Reenen) and the Team Award, were well represented by those largely responsible for their breathtaking success.
While Sean and David Sadie will be continuing with the team, which their ever-affable scout Johnny van Niekerk will continue to bolster, it was time for Elmo Wolfaardt to bid farewell as he leaves to guide Little Boys’ High, a wise move for two reasons: firstly, because he is actually a primary school teacher and, secondly, and much more importantly, he will be able to ensure the moulding of young talent before it reaches the high school.
Also on the receiving end were Stellenberg, who were the Rugby School of the Year and whose journey upwards knows no bounds under the inspired leadership of 1st XV head coach Divan Batt and the charming Duppie du Preez. Everyone is jealous of them, so much so that it seems extremely unlikely that they’re ever going to be allocated the fixture list they deserve.
The event summed everything up perfectly. The past (temporarily) : 2016 Rugby School Parel Vallei; the present : Paarl Boys’ High and the future : Stellenberg, all in one room, smiling broadly. It was actually worth the ninety minutes it took for me and my navigator Kattes Kruger to manoeuvre our way through the foul Friday rush four hours traffic.
Unfortunately, the word “perfectly” is quite inappropriate when describing the goings on in my favourite province.
Although my faith in Boland schoolboy rugby is unshakeable, from time to time individuals and/or institutions there sting me where it really hurts and I am forced briefly to turn a blind eye to this site’s mission statement, which is to concentrate on the positive.
The first example shows just how cynical a school can be, with a little help from the province, of course.
Recognising the outstanding potential of a particular Grade 11 player, Boland signed him on a one-year contract to avoid his being spirited away in the course of the 2016 Craven Week.
Said player, whose family is unable to support him, then picked up a troublesome back injury towards the end of the season. Both the school and the province were fully aware of it as he was sent for a comprehensive diagnosis, one of the recommendations of which resulted in his having to attend a locally-held national elite-group training camp in a non-participatory capacity.
You’d think everyone would be investing time and care in his recovery, but, no, everyone just forgot about him until February 2017 when a follow-up revealed that the lack of any proactive therapy meant he would have to sit out the start of the new season.
Hardly surprisingly, doubts concerning his fitness saw him relegated to the bench for this year’s Craven Week, which didn’t stop him from receiving the Man of the Match award in one of the games.
Back at school what can only be described as a vendetta against this humble, affable youngster meant that he was inexplicably omitted from the interschools squad on a pretext which I am personally prepared to state was nothing short of malicious.
Then, to top it all, he was overlooked for the school’s Player of the Year award, to the absolute amazement of most of those attending the prizegiving, on the grounds that the recipient had played more 1st XV games than he had ! Now whose fault was that ?
It really makes no sense. Even if the school and the province couldn’t care less about the youngster’s interests, it stands to reason that they would have supervised his recuperation for their own self-serving reasons.
Happy irony : the youngster has been signed on a full contract at a union a healthy distance away by a scout who is also a former pupil of the school.
Depressing as that unhappy tale is, the following is, by comparison, something of a Shakespearean farce.
The story I am about to outline – and which is 100% true – is fairly common knowledge in the Boland, thanks to some newspaper coverage. However, I can add a few unpublished details, which will further underline how the moral depths this country has been plumbing have reached out into every aspect of our lives.
In June of 2017 the parent of a Boland schoolboy trialist came within two days of taking out an interdict preventing the Craven and Academy Week sides from attending their respective weeks at St Stithian’s College.
This is, in and of itself, extremely surprising, even though one might ask what parent wouldn’t want the best for his son ?
It’s the circumstances surrounding the whole fiasco that underline how shoddy organization contributed to a determined, if misguided, father nearly causing a sporting shambles.
Let’s start at the beginning. In the initial informal trials phase the player in question emerged as the top candidate at Under 18 level for his position in the province.
Unfortunately, the formal trials system which had worked so well in 2015 and 2016 – comprising three days during which every player had an opportunity to impress the selectors in his regular position and in the familiar surroundings of his own school team – fell apart spectacularly in 2017.
The first two days were, believe it or not, scheduled for the same date and the third day, scheduled for Malmesbury, faced the almost insurmountable task of trying to find a team prepared to take the field against HTS Drostdy. When Weston eventually did volunteer, the Boland referees used the occasion to give notice that they were going on strike because of their inadequate match fees.
This meant that, far from being well-prepared, the three teams that faced Western Province at Boland Park in what has become both province’s unofficial final trials, were little more than informed thumb-suck selections.
What is more relevant is that between the initial trials and the WP showdown, the son had suddenly, and inexplicably, slipped from first to seventh choice.
Unfortunately the father and the convenor of the selectors both know each other from their involvement in Boland rugby (the father serves on the senior committee and the convenor doubles as the coach to the provincial Under 20 squad).
So what, you ask ? Well, a large part of the father’s motivation as to why his son should have been selected was based on reported conversations between these two gentlemen, during which complimentary remarks were made to the father about his son’s general performance. This I know from the final demands the father made, a copy of which is in my possession.
Honestly, if you ask an educator about your son’s progress, said teacher is unlikely to tell you that your offspring is a complete failure as a human being. Human nature is to pass some pleasant but non-specific remarks that show things are good between you and the youngster.
But that wasn’t all. The Father quoted the chairman of Boland Schools Rugby’s circulated statement that under no circumstances would any player who was unable to take part in the matches against WP be eligible for selection. And the player chosen as number four in the son’s position was at the field, but couldn’t play against WP as he was recovering from concussion.
Of course, the father also knows the Schools chairman and should have been aware that such statements are never taken as being anything more than the senseless waffle that often characterises such communications.
And so it was that, three days before the teams were due to leave, Boland was required to provide cogent reasons why the father shouldn’t apply for an interdict preventing their participation.
Instead of opting to solve the impasse within the system in a non-confrontational way, the father opted to use his insider status to exacerbate the situation and that’s unforgivable.
The trade-off was just as astonishing. It was agreed that the son would accompany the Boland Under 20 side that weekend and would sit on the bench fully kitted out. That’s what happened – even if it came dangerously close to infringing the Boksmart rules regarding players in that position taking part two age-groups above their own. I’ve actually seen a cell-phone clip of the lad jumping up and down with his team-mates when the side scored.
Things would have been in a sorry enough state if the saga had stopped there, but, regrettably, it continued.
The child duly found himself relegated to his school’s second team because of his attitude shortly after which the school had an away fixture for which they had to travel a considerable distance and for which they would need to stretch the Boksmart conditions to their limit.
Boland officials being scarcer the farther you travel from Wellington, it is hardly surprising that the task of Boksmart auditor for the match fell to the father concerned, seeing he was going to be there anyway.
The chance for petty revenge was too good to pass up with the result that the 1st XV match did not take place. I am in no position to apportion blame as to why it was cancelled, but my correspondent at the game made it abundantly clear who was responsible.
To deprive kids in this sparsely populated province of their Saturday rugby fix is simple bloodymindedness.
Did this gentleman get in the last word ? Not quite. That privilege falls to me. These two incidents amply illustrate just how retrogressive things can get in the pretty province.
Compare these events to the comfortable feelings created by the evening at Parel Vallei and you have the difference between the two provinces in a nutshell.
May the gap close considerably in 2018. A happy and successful year to you all !