HOPEFIELD : FULFILLING HOPES
The driving force. Coach Jean Rossouw, 2019 vice-captain JP Smit, captain Nathan Engelbrecht
and proud principal Wehan Fourie pose with the TSRF floating trophy the Hopefield 1st XV
received for playing the Best Rugby at the 2018 event. (photo: supplied)
Everyone loves a feel-good story, but when it involves a worthy group of people bent on achieving their school’s aims and bucking several national trends in the process, it really buoys one’s spirits.
For several years now this site has been referring glowingly to the phenomenon that is Höerskool Hopefield, located in a small, unprepossessing town some 124 kilometres from the Mother City.
It’s not even on a main arterial route, although some might argue that Langebaan and Vredenburg constitute exciting destinations. To reach it one must either pass through Malmesbury, which seems like New York by comparison, and turn left onto a long, lonely stretch of road called the R45.
However, things have been changing slowly but surely in this homely hamlet at a time when most people would least expect it.
All one reads about these days is the growing number of farmers leaving the platteland and taking their families with them. Toss in the unpleasant practice of aggressive player recruitment practised particularly by those schools trying to maintain or raise their status through their rugby strength and you’re faced with a sure-fire recipe for rural disaster.
While the former may well indeed afflict the town, the poaching bug has barely registered a blip on the school’s radar. This could, of course, be because the only high-profile departure lured by promises of fame and fortune ended up playing little more than a handful of matches for his new owners.
The reality couldn’t be more different. In fact, such is the amazing exponential rise of the school’s rugby prowess that hundreds of learners are availing themselves of the school’s fleet of buses to commute daily from, for example, Langebaan and Vredenburg.
This year there were no fewer than 400 applications for the seventy Grade 8 places available.
But a boulder doesn’t just decide to head off downhill. Visionaries and faithful workhorses are essential prerequisites in the process of building - and then maintaining - successful structures.
Principal Wehan Fourie has been at the school for 29 years and coached rugby sides for twenty of those before his promotion to his current post put a spanner in his free time.
Building on this tireless continuity have come the likes of Deon Gerber, now at Marlow after a spell at Paarl Gym, the Van den Heever brothers, Franco and Rian, and André “Ouboet” Lourens, all four of whom matriculated at the school, the last two having the interesting distinction of both playing for and then, years later, coaching the 1st XV at Tony Stoops Festivals.
The current masterminds are Jean Erasmus, yet another past pupil, and Albert van Dyk, who have together created a team that plays the most delightful rugby. Last year the side played Bishops at the Porterville Festival and went as far as opening the scoring with a great try by acclaimed flyhalf Nathan Engelbrecht.
Another of the school’s legends, Johann van Rhyn, a devoted local figure with four decades of commitment to the cause behind him, is now the sports organizer.
Sports organizer ? Why would a little place like Hopefield need such a figure, you might ask ? Well, put this in your pipe and smoke it. Over the last nine years enrolment has climbed by almost 50% from the late 400s to 720 learners from Grades R to 12, meaning that it can field an astonishing thirteen rugby teams on any weekend.
In years gone by the annual match against Vredenburg was approached with dread; now it’s a pleasant jog in the sunshine. Last August the 1st XV stunned Swartland, a considerably larger institution, 32-14. In a similar vein, from posting comparatively ordinary results in its early years at the TSRF, in 2018 the pride of the school was awarded the Trophy for the Side playing the Most Attractive Rugby, while versatile scrumhalf Gregan Papier was declared Player of the Festival.
A fast-growing fish in a pond that is quickly drying up ? Not at all. The school regularly sends teams off to Namibia and visited Argentina a few years ago. Now a party of 38 boys and four coaches is heading off to Ireland at the end of the first term, the culmination of two arduous years of planning.
But staying true to their roots is more than just an empty phrase to Fourie, van Rhyn and their willing cohorts. The annual CL Baard Auto Rugby Day, a very popular fixture on the Western Cape calendar since its inception thirteen years ago, takes place on 23 February, with no fewer than 47 sides covering the various age-groups coming to enjoy the camaraderie and tasty delights only the Boland can generate.
For those who would like to gauge the strength of the side in a full-length match, they are scheduled to face Overberg at Porterville on 9 March 2019. You won’t be disappointed !