Just try and stop me !  Rondebosch number 8 Johann Strauss on the drive
during his side’s 10-10 draw at Bishops in August. (photo: Robert Gad)


If you believe that life runs in cycles, then the outcome of the 2018 Southern Suburbs Challenge will have had you smiling as history happily repeated itself. 

In 2014, roughly one high school generation ago, Wynberg (13-4) were by far the best school in the area.  Since then, they has gone through a very lean period, propping up the table in all the intervening years and offering their supporters very little about which to get enthusiastic.

There is no secret to their good fortune as they fielded a virtually intact 2017 squad, many of whom had in fact played even longer together in their primary school days at Sweet Valley.  Of course, they’ve faced other campaigns with a largely unchanged group, but that hasn’t helped.  They will happily consign those years to the distant past: that was then, this is now.

And success brought with it recognition as hooker Jason Alexander and loosehead Luthando Woji were both called up for the Craven Week squad, acknowledgement of the great strides made up at Hawthornden.

The first – and rather glaring – mistake of 2017 was sidestepped as the team were careful to fit in a warm-up match before the KES Easter Festival.  Brackenfell were duly beaten 38-29, a scoreline which would surely have been more convincing had the coaches not opted to give the entire bench game time in the closing minutes.

Noordheuwel (49-7), KES (23-17) and Muir (81-0) were well beaten, as were Rondebosch, 31-19 away from home, before Paarl Boys’ High edged them out 32-28 in a thriller.  The momentum soon returned, Durbanville 24-17, Boland Landbou 27-25 and Grey High 36-33 in Port Elizabeth all falling prey to Justin van Winkel’s troops.

Bishops (29-33) and Paarl Gym (6-29) proved too strong, but a remarkable 46-22 victory over archrivals SACS, in which Alexander scored no fewer than five tries, provided a satisfactory ending to the term.

The third term may have brought a runaway defeat to Paul Roos (14-73), but success against Bellville (32-7), Rondebosch (24-22), Bishops (22-20) and SACS (30-17) ensured that the local laurels headed off to the leafy suburb again.

Alexander and Woji were joined in the front row by Nic Witte, with James Pearse a most capable replacement when called upon.  Captain Mika Schubert and Liam Lotz locked the scrum, the loose forwards normally including Inga Halu at no. 8 and Saeed Fakier at flank along with various other players, including Reece Bryce.

The halfback pairing of Dylan Munro and Kyle Lamb provided stability, while Devon Pretorius, Siya Nombakuse, Patrick Chivanga, Wandile Notshe, Chase Hermanus and Rethabile Louw manned the midfield, anchored, when he was available, by De Livio van Wyk at full back.

Pretorius and Van Wyk (89 and 75 points respectively) may have been the leading scorers, but it was the heroics of Alexander, whose seventeen tries were by no means an exaggeration of his ability, that really caught the eye.  The closest anyone came to him was Halu with seven.

Very few outsiders knew what to expect of the 2018 Bishops team (13-1-5), but they were soon disabused of any thoughts that the Platinum Blues were going to be the mere pushovers they had been over the last few seasons.  Indeed, there was a very real possibility of their taking the southern suburbs title until the second Wynberg game scuppered their chances.

Five players represented Western Province at the Under 18 weeks.  Flank Justin Muller and scrumhalf William Rose made the CW squad; centre Luca Liebenberg, the Craven Week Invitation team, and tighthead David Coerie and scrumhalf Liam Kloosman, the Academy Week team.

A fairly sedate start, in which they beat humble Hopefield 24-7, was soon greatly embellished by victories over Grey High (27-10), St Stithian’s (35-7) and Michaelhouse (40-12) over Easter in Johannesburg.

Back home in Cape Town, Tygerberg were unceremoniously thumped (66-5) and success against SACS (19-7) gave them the ideal local league start. However, home defeats at the hands of Paul Roos (21-44) and Boland Landbou (14-24) came as sobering blows.  

Even then, success against Wynberg (33-29) and Rondebosch (25-20) on either side of the narrowest of defeats (13-14) at Paarl Boys’ High meant confidence was high going into the Independent Schools Festival in Grahamstown, where they beat Kingswood (19-10) and Hilton (24-17).

Strand were easily dispatched (81-5), hardly ideal preparation for a tough assignment at Paarl Gym, which saw them defeated 52-27.  SACS proved a tougher hurdle on their home ground, but a 22-20 win kept their hopes alive.

Even a thrilling 38-22 derby win over St Andrew’s couldn’t help prepare them as they went down to Wynberg (20-22) and ended the season with a 10-10 home draw against Rondebosch.

Up front Alex Castle and Jeff Malherbe and Olly MacRobert, amongst others, stood firm, Tim Sharples and Ano Mtombeni proved to be very athletic second rowers and Muller, Matt Klingenberg and Isaiah Wharton stood out among the loose forwards,

Rose and Jordan Meyer formed a close unit at half-back, which helped to create space for midfield players Victor Allen, Harry Newman and Liebenberg.  Alex Jovanovich-Besan and Michael Roche acquitted themselves on the wings, as did Bingô Ivanisevic, who continued his excellent try-scoring record when he was reassigned to full-back.

Meyer registered 103 points and Rose, 65, while Ivanisevic (14), Allen (9) and Newman (8) scored the most tries.

Next year sees the keenly anticipated graduation to the 1st XV ranks of what has been a highly acclaimed group of talented youngsters, even by Bishops’ lofty standards.  The future, it would appear, is in good hands.

Rondebosch (9-1-7) supplied five players to the provincial Under 18 sides, right wing Thoubaan Gabriels and flank Mihlali Mgolodela in the CW team, props David Ige and Seth Christian in the CWI and Paul Ige in the AW squad.  Mgolodela was selected for the SA Schools squad.

Victories at St Stithian’s over Easter against Parktown (35-12, Kingswood (15-10) and Maritzburg College (41-3) and a heartening 31-28 against Napier of New Zealand hardly prepared Rondebosch’s (9-1-7) hopeful supporters for a 19-31 home defeat to Wynberg on the opening day of the local programme.

A 67-12 thrashing at Boland Landbou was followed by success against Argentinian side Tordos (34-7) and there were even some moments to savour in the 28-69 reversal at the hands of Paarl Gym.  Durbanville were efficiently dealt with, 30-13, before an outstanding team effort saw Justin Reynolds’ team outlast highly-rated HTS Drostdy 43-37.  Spirits that were high after a 24-5 away triumph over SACS were, however, cruelly dashed 25-20 by Bishops on the Tinkie Heyns field.

The third term began inauspiciously as Bosch gave a disjointed, ill-disciplined performance in losing 12-31 at home to Stellenberg.  Then came losses away to Paul Roos (17-44) and Wynberg (22-24) before a remarkable second half rally saw them beat SACS 29-24.  Unfortunately this could not quite fire the team up enough and the final game of the season ended in a 10-10 draw at Bishops.

Christian and Ige scrummed down on either side of Jay Reiback and, later in the season, Troy Fisher.  Matt Gray, Ra-ees Salie and Reece van Eden did duty in the second-row, while skipper Justin Reynolds, Matt McLeod-Smith and workhorse no.8 Johann Strauss comprised a very capable loose trio.

Jaco Barnard and Conor van Eden played the majority of the games in the scrumhalf berth, although Van Eden was on occasion used at pivot so that regular flyhalf Ross Stone could be employed at first centre.  Jordan Collier filled the outside centre position, with Gabriels and Jonathan Jollivet de Oliveira on the left and right wings respectively.  Arguably the team’s most impressive attacking player was young full-back Dalvon Blood, who repeatedly proved that he was too much of a handful for most defences.

Perhaps the strangest situation was that of Mgolodela, who, despite being selected for the SA Schools side, only a handful of appearances for the school’s first team.

As far as the accumulation of points was concerned, Stone weighed in with 108, while Blood helped himself to eleven thrilling tries.

Like the other Western Cape sides, SACS (9-11) did not find the St Stithian’s Easter festival particularly challenging, returning with wins against Maritzburg College (35-7), Michaelhouse (34-10) and Kingswood (17-10) under their collective belt.  Reality soon kicked in as they suffered heavy defeats at Paul Roos (21-70) and Paarl Gym (38-54) and a southern suburbs setback against Bishops (7-19).

Victories over Durbanville (17-13) and Bellville (43-22) provided a temporary respite as the Young Ikeys went down to Stellenberg (22-25), Rondebosch (5-24) and Wynberg (46-22).

A very successful mid-year tour of Zimbabwe, during which they beat Prince Edward (37-22), the Zimbabwe Under 18 team (38-21), St John’s (61-26) and Peterhouse (48-21) couldn’t paper over the cracks appearing in their local form and the third term saw them lose all five matches, against Boland Landbou (24-47), Paarl Boys’ High (10-25), Bishops (20-22), Rondebosch (24-29) and Wynberg (17-30).

What was puzzling that, like Wynberg, the Newlands side had a liberal sprinkling of returning players, but just didn’t seem able to turn advantageous situations into wins.

Burly Ethan Burger and Josh Barrett scrummed down on either side of Anathi Kalipa in the front row, with Jean Minnaar and Storm Balchin the preferred second-row pairing. Captain Craig Bylin was ever-present on the one flank, while Lukhanyo Gqokomo did duty in the no.8 jumper.

Thurston Cloete had an impressive season behind the scrum where he was joined by Dean Reich and, on occasion, Michael Abrahams.  The centres were Ben Mazzullo and Kabelo Mokoena, when the latter was not playing in his preferred position on the right wing with Robin Aspeling entering the fray late in the season. 

While Matthew Hayes made the left wing berth his own, Cameron Abegglen also found himself deployed there on occasion.  With Abrahams not always available, Ross Letcher did duty at full-back.

As designated tee-man Hayes topped the team’s scoring chart with 107 points, the main contributors in the try-scoring stakes being Mokoena on eleven and Minnaar on ten.  Cloete, Mazzullo and Burger each crossed the whitewash eight times.

It is unlikely that a side as willing as the Young Ikeys will find themselves cursed with the same bad luck again next year.  In any case, one hopes not as it will make for an interesting southern suburbs scuffle !


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