LET THE TRUE FESTIVAL SPIRIT PREVAIL
Not if I can help it ! Paul Roos flyhalf Damian Willemse (with ball) gets ready to
sidestep Affies' Jack Hart (9) during Saturday's match. (photo: Inus Grobler)
Despite an increasing number of pre-Easter gatherings, it’s this weekend’s major festivals around the country that invariably garner the most attention.
And rightly so.
After all, the schools involved in these showpieces have put in a whole lot of work, not only in securing the attendance of the traditionally most prominent schools, but also in ensuring that their fields and their surrounds are in peak condition and that conditions are as consumer-friendly as is humanly possible.
It is hardly surprising that the Jo’burg three and, more recently, Kearsney have become magnets for any spectator who has a love of the schoolboy game.
Their hallowed status has been earned over the years, an invitation to one of them being as good as confirmation that your school has made it to the big time, rather like being seen at the Vanity Fair Oscar after-party rather than some other tawdry shindig.
Two other reasons define these showpieces as the Mecca of rugby-playing learners.
Not only do they represent the only guaranteed chance schools have of measuring their strength against their counterparts in other provinces, but – heaping even more pressure on young shoulders – the scouts will also be out in force looking to make attractive signings for next year, with both sides of the equation well aware that nobody can bank 100% on selection for his province’s Coca-Cola Craven Week squad.
Indeed, the importance attached to these Big Four spectacles is best illustrated when one observes how all the big guns and wannabes build their seasons around them. Even the Paul Roos 150 Day may well have suffered from one or two sides not being able to fit the trip into schedules that had been carefully constructed to keep Easter open.
Without wishing to come across as an item of saturated bedding, my opinion is that teams should bear in mind that, while their appearance at these festivals might entitle them to indulge in a bit of self-congratulation, a poor showing – as much (if not more so) with respect to their discipline as to their performances – could result in their summary disappearance from the guest list for future years.
Players and coaches should pause for a moment to reflect on their roles.
Believe it or not, the prime objective of these events is to promote schoolboy rugby to the broadest possible audience, whether it be dressed in Prada and Gucci gear or just cargo shorts and flip-flops.
For many victory is frighteningly crucial in the pursuit of a high national ranking, which hopefully will increase their school’s allure to potential future enrolment, in the process perpetuating the cycle of prominence they enjoy.
The Mutual and Federal Agri Oakdale Festival and the Tony Stoops Rugby Festival presented by Spur Steak Ranches represent a different side of the spectrum: attendance at these placing more emphasis on sides preparing themselves in a congenially competitive atmosphere, as contradictory as this might sound, for the season ahead without pandering to the desperate need for national recognition.
Some big sides do occasionally attend these festivals for the simple reason that there they can be themselves, for want of a better expression, out of the glare of the limelight. While cynics might sarcastically label this as a confession that the school’s vintage that year might not quite be export quality, taking a proverbial load off your feet is not always that bad an idea.
In closing, let’s look at the anxieties connected with the Main Occasions.
Scared you’ll make yourself a potential scapegoat for your team’s shortcomings ? Leave the worrying to those who chose you in the first place.
Worried about securing your place in the team/provincial squad/on the scout’s watchlist ? Don’t stress: you’d be pleasantly surprised how many more players get lucky despite than get chosen because.
Get out there and have loads of fun ! You’re going to make your friends, family and yourself very proud just by taking the field. And that’s what matters most.