The spearhead.
  HTS Drostdy lock SJ Wessels (centre) consolidates possession against
Bishops last August.  He and flank Jurie Fick will be integral to the Donkeys' hopes
for a successful showing at their festival in April. (photo : Peter van As)

In the light of all the post-1994 chatter and continuous appeals for the whole country to get behind the Springboks, Proteas and Bafana Bafana, the growing trend in schools rugby festivals based expressly on a North vs South format is intriguing.

I think one would be foolish to believe that the attempts at a spirit of national unity extends as far as our chosen code. For proof, one needs look only at the constant bickering that goes on, largely between schools from different provinces and by no means restricted to matters related to rugby, on websites such as Schoolboy Rugby Blog.

The competitive nature of the game at school level definitely does not diminish the longer the length of time separating your average South African male from his alma mater. In fact, it evidently increases as people experience the crests and troughs of the standard-bearing 1st XVs.

The old North – South rivalry merely serves to spice things up at a national level. Traditionally people from the sleepy fishing village down south can’t abide the Valies who arrive, intent on commandeering the Peninsula, every December – although they do quite happily accept the financial benefits that accompany these visitors.

The result we are now seeing is the early attempts at starting schoolboy rugby festivals drawing explicitly upon this North vs South rivalry.

There is by no means any negativity underlying the format; in fact, it is a most welcome natural development in the fixture list.

Last year former Springbok Pieter Rossouw tested the water on a very small scale at Menlopark, with only the host school, Waterkloof and Paarl Gym participating. The Gimmies were lucky enough to play the two Tshwane teams and that was, er, that.

However, just getting the northern Paarl team to agree to attend was something of a victory, although the Winelands side’s coach, Christoff Lötter, known to be extremely wary of subjecting his players to overexposure, and Rossouw have been close friends for many years.

This year’s festival has been fraught with difficulties for two reasons: its proximity to the many Easter festivals and the growing realization among top schools that they might indeed be playing too much rugby.

Ironically this didn’t stop wary Paarl Gym from entering again, with Outeniqua and Oakdale making up the southern portion. The north was set to be represented by Garsfontein, Menlopark and HTS Middelburg.

All seemed settled until late last year when Oakdale suddenly noticed that they would heading north a day after playing three tough fixtures at their own Mutual and Federal Agri Festival in Riversdale.

Fortunately an arrangement was made for a Combined Sydney Schools side to replace them with the Grey Cherries filling the Oakdale 2nd XV slot.

However, HTS Middelburg then withdrew, necessitating another adjustment.

The result is that the Aussies will play the Grey 2nds on Wednesday 8 April, while on Saturday 10 April Waterkloof play the Sydney team and HS Middelburg will take the field against the Bloem lads. The Gimmies and Quaggas both play Menlo Park and Garsfontein.

Meanwhile, down in Worcester, HTS Drostdy principal Arthur André has set up a similar style of festival, using contacts established while teaching up north before taking this post..

Unfortunately, as with Rossouw’s endeavour, the timing has been the problem – both are scheduled for the week after Easter (8 – 11 April 2015).

So this year’s initial offering will involve HTS Drostdy, Hugenote of Wellington, Florida and Kempton Park, the last of whom will go home suitably exhausted as they will arrive in Worcester one day after plaving three games at Oakdale !

Surpringly – call it beginner’s luck, if you like – it is the third such festival, brought into existence by Oudtshoorn High sports organizer Harry Coetzee, that boasts the most interesting field.

The two reasons for this seem to be that the guest list hasn’t been unrealistically limited, which is hardly surprising since it is running concurrently with Wildeklawer, and the timing has hit a nice blind spot in the fixture list (Saturday 25 and Monday 27 April 2015), the only other rival attraction being Wynberg.

However, this open invitation list policy cuts both ways, as the attendees show:

From that side of the river come Helpmekaar, Voortrekker (NFS), Noordheuwel, Sentraal (FS), Ben Vorster, Rustenburg, Lichtenburg and Linden, all of whom, on the face it, appear to be considerably more daunting than their Western and Eastern Cape counterparts (Oudtshoorn, Brackenfell, Worcester Gym, De Kuilen, Marlow, Die Brandwag (EP), Nico Malan and Piketberg).

This is to a certain extent predictable simply because there just aren’t that many large and formidable schools in this half of the country, especially after the other two events reduce that number by around 98% !

The thought of Piketberg and Marlow, who have around 210 male learners between them, playing against big guys like Helpmekaar, who probably boast that many matrics (OK, that would include girls) is a little disconcerting.

Needless to say, none of the mild pessimism expressed above is likely to detract from these new spectacles, which, when all is said and done, can only benefit the game, albeit in what is becoming an increasingly long run.




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