MASSIVE CLASHES AS LOCAL SEASON STARTS

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Cornered !  Rondebosch utility back Ethan Seymour finds his escape route cut off by two
Pietersburg defenders during his side's 50-3 win over the Limpopo visitors on
Saturday 1 April, day one of TSRF 2017. (photo courtesy of Axnshots)

 

While the previous article gave some brief impressions of what one can expect from the top sides in the “league season” starting on Saturday 22 April 2017, one thing it definitely didn’t do was try to prepare everyone for what might happen when they played each other.

Well, you don’t have to wait long to find out.  This weekend realizes every enthusiast’s dream as all twelve of those teams face similarly-ranked opposition, making for a truly memorable day.

Very few of the province’s elite returned home from their various festival destinations with anything less than satisfied smiles on their faces.  What better way to evaluate and to motivate them than to see how they fare against traditional rivals they face every season ?

Plus there are two of the Boland Prestige trial days, in Worcester and Wellington, where this particular breed of follower can run a beady eye over the other wannabe stars of the platteland.

Let’s start with the only game outside the Peninsula and its surrounds.

If you’ve still got petrol and a willingness to travel, you have to get up to Riversdale for the Oakdale vs HTS Drostdy game.

Both sides have everything to play for as both form and common sense dictate that they should form the backbones of the SWD and Boland Craven Week teams, especially with Outeniqua not quite reaching the heights to which one has become used.

Oakdale had comfortable wins against undemanding opponents at their festival.  As such it’s hard to discern just who the stars are going to be.  Saturday will definitely change that !  Jay-Cee Nel, Pietie Uys and Dian Bleuler remain the only familiar faces, but the other Bulle are going to have to pull out all the stops to keep the Donkeys at bay.

Drostdy have been going out of their way to make sure that they become a force on the national stage.  Of course, this hadn’t made them any friends, but that can wait for a later article.

The Scarlets really have a crackerjack combination, one that is so daunting that no-one else in their province is willing to play against them.  Actually, there are one or two other reasons for this situation, but that doesn’t concern you now.

Their own worst enemies to date appear to have been themselves (the richest example of irony in the English language !).  They leave the starting-blocks at top speed, but suddenly seem to go into neutral.  However, it’s highly unlikely that this has escaped the coaching staff.

The forwards are highly mobile, lock Bron-Lee Mouries starring in virtually every game, while they boast two delightful scrumhalves in captain Romeo Eksteen and Luciano Elias, Shaun Baxter is a fast, intelligent pivot and, with Berto le Roux in the playmaker role at no.12, centre partner Christie Grobbelaar and wing Adriaan Mans have been racking up the tries.  Then, at full-back, there’s the one-man whirlwind called Cohen Jasper, a game breaker of immense potential.

Can they lasso the Bulls in their own corral ?  Don’t bet against it !

It really seems that the best matches always get scheduled for the Markotter.  This weekend it’s Paul Roos vs Paarl Gym, a true battle of the tight ones.

Despite being subjected to very strenuous tests, neither side has tasted defeat this year.  The Young Maties had to move into sixth gear to see off a very polished Helpmekaar side on Saturday, while Gym sneaked past Affies four weeks ago.

It’s when those games were played that is so crucial.  Gym will have had an eighteen day break come Saturday; Paul Roos, just four.

The Maroons will need to nullify a few key players in their opposition.  Henco Martins has been wreaking havoc from the back of the scrum, locks Ryno Beukes and Adriaan Ludick have been extremely influential in both tight and loose exchanges and the sheer unpredictability (plus a healthy dose of speed) makes Muller du Plessis a very special kind of problem.

Paul Roos won’t be having sleepless nights, though.  Philip van Dyk is in outstanding form at no.8, while Breyten Maritz is holding his own at lock, plus he is extremely mobile.  The hosts’ front row is also up for anything.

Both Paul Roos scrummies move like quicksilver, although I must express a personal preference for Antonie Kock, based on his canny option-taking. With Rufus Dercksen, Regan van der Westhuizen and Brendan Venter jnr all very sharp at centre and adept finishers in WJ Smit and Remy Engelbrecht out wide, full-back Colia Louis is left with plenty of time in which to choose between counterattacking or clearing his lines.

The elegance with which Paul Roos 2017 is playing is an absolute joy to watch.  Gym aren’t that shabby either.  What a contest !

Paarl Boys’ High don’t have nightmares; after seven games in three weeks, they fall asleep as soon as their heads hit those feathery things. They welcome an Outeniqua side chastened by two defeats at the North-South spectacular.

The side from George still has to establish its identity.  It’s not that reassuring to note that their current stand-out appears to be hooker Stephan Leonard.

It won’t comfort the Quaggas to think about the heroes’ welcome everyone associated with the Boishaai tourists is going to give their team at the weekend. 

The locals are loaded with talent, but the extraordinary contributions of loose forwards Francke Horn and Vion Fourie defy description.  That there are another thirteen players in the side almost seems like an unfair handicap. 

Eric Myburgh and Boeta Chamberlain have built up an almost telepathic understanding, which suits the fighter jets outside them just fine.  Centre Divan Enslin, the hero against Grey College last year, is in sublime form and wings Thakir Abrahams and Stuart Tait both carry full nuclear payloads.  And don’t forget Abner van Reenen, the no.15 who contrived to steal the spoils against Affies !

If you’re from the blue half of Wine Central, get out there and raise the roof !

Next we come to our own little North vs South clash, between SACS and Boland Landbou up in stone dry Newlands.

The sooner everyone in the Landbou camp buys into the entertainment factor that their flagship side provides in such generous amounts, the sooner the obsession with having some sort of unbeaten record to protect and crow about will dissipate.

The visitors’ backline in full flow is as attractive as schoolboy – actually any – rugby gets.  The forwards uncomplainingly provide the basic ingredients of the cake – a good ball supply – while the breathtaking running talents of Duren Hoffman, Durin Nasson, Luther McKay, Darren Hendricks and François du Toit represent the tastiest icing in the coffee shop.

However successful a school side is, the players are as much in a learning phase on the field as they are in the classroom.  Unrealistic expectations only pave the way for a very hard fall.

SACS are blessed with a breed of supporter that happily embraces any good thing that comes their way.  In recent years this has included a couple of remarkable showings when the Farmers come to town.

It hasn’t taken anyone long to realize that, while Jordy Hop might be the wizard, he is nothing without the players around him and plenty of them have been putting up their hands.  The most eye-catching have been Aaron Zeederberg and fit-again Zolani Masembathe, both of whom have been eating up the vital yards out on the wing,

The return to fitness of lock Storm Balchin added a welcome degree of strength, particularly in the line-out phase, against St Andrew’s on Easter Monday, while Anathi Kalipa, Josh Barrett and stop-me-if-you-can loosehead Ethan Burger are holding their own at scrum time.

The Young Ikeys experienced a few shaky moments at St Stithian’s.  Hopefully they will have learnt from each error and indiscretion.  They can’t afford to give the lads from Windmeul a sniff of a chance or they will end up smelling the odour of defeat.

That they used the prospect of facing Wynberg up at Lovers Walk this Saturday as one of their reasons for opting for only two fixtures at the KES Festival tells you just how seriously Rondebosch view the challenge posed by their hosts.

Although Bosch have been in good form, there are still some areas in which they are well aware they can improve.

Fortunately Robbie Davis and van der Bijl Blake look settled at half-back, while Zaka Sallie and DJ Falconer have reached a similar level of understanding in midfield.  Front rankers Suhaib Ajmoodien and Chulu Mputing are lively in the loose and Braden Tredoux is nothing if not efficient, come line-out time, while Cal Smid monitors impending threats from no.8.  

Wynberg opted to start their winter with three games at KES, a decision they rued for a few days after being given a nasty lesson by the hosts in the first half of their match.  Afterwards things have been improving exponentially to the point that one wonders whether the KES result might have been different if… But that’s idle speculation.

Old hands like Cameron Bowes at no. 8 and the centre pairing of Ryan Biscombe and Chris Colborne take care of things once possession has been secured.  The form of both hookers in the squad, Jason Alexander and James Pearse, suggests that a fire is definitely burning in the front row; hopefully it quickly spreads throughout the young pack.

Southern suburbs derbies are always close-fought encounters.  There’s absolutely no reason to suspect that Saturday’s match should be any different.

Opening day’s final major showdown sees thoroughly workmanlike Stellenberg visit the hallowed turf of the Piley Rees to play a Bishops side that seems to have avoided the teething problems so often experienced by the Platinum Blues in the early stages of recent seasons.

In their only local outing this season, the Rondebosch side was operating in something close to top gear, despite coaches Chetty and Smith making plenty of changes in the search for ideal combinations.

It’s worth bearing in mind that they beat St Andrew’s – who gave SACS a wake-up call at St Stithian’s on Monday – on their own turf in Grahamstown and went on to beat Kingswood as well.  

The forwards boast a fair amount of beef, hooker Ghaalib Kenny and loose-forwards Felix Burt and Matthew Norton are never happier than in the heat of the tight exchanges. 

They boast established strength out wide in second centre George Spencer and wings Ross Goodwin and Murray Bruce, all three of whom earned their spurs last year.  A player to watch is nippy scrumhalf William Rose, who adds a bit of the old family magic to proceedings.

Few would disagree that there is a difference in quality and attitude between the four southern suburbs schools and their country cousins.  Situated roughly halfway between the two groups Stellenberg will be under the microscope this season as neutrals wait to see how the Jade Brigade performs against the city slickers.     

The lads from the north are a very impressive unit, as was evident from their impressive showing at Paarl Gym. 

Their pack, a cohesive unit that hunts together under the exemplary leadership of lock Janko Swanepoel, should ask some serious questions of their hosts.  The no.9 battle between Rose and Jacques van Biljon – if he isn’t employed at fly-half – could be a very interesting tussle. 

The visitors’ threequarters are also a lively handful, especially if elusive Steph Marais plays in his preferred 12 jersey.  Factor in that Angelo Davids, Roché Malan and Corné van Romburgh are all used to the rough and tumble of the big league and you’ve got a fascinating seventy minutes to look forward to !

Of course, there is a whole host of other games on too, but just thinking about the Super Six above is about all one writer can handle !



 

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