That sinking feeling. Outeniqua centre Emilio Otto is scragged by an Oudtshoorn opponent during interschools
2017, won 62-19 by the Quaggas in George on 26 August. (photo: Gavin Falck)
While almost every school’s 1st XV tends to experience its share of ups and downs every few years, it is very seldom that two giants in one particular area go off the boil at much the same time.
This becomes all the more remarkable when those teams happen to represent the only powerhouses in their province.
And so, it’s rather surprising (to fans of the genre) and reassuring (to their rivals) to note that neither Outeniqua and Oakdale, the stalwarts of the South Western Districts, could manage a top 20 finish on this site’s 2017 performance table.
Although this doesn’t mean that they were weaker than the twenty or so schools placed higher than them, it does tell interested observers that they found the going a lot tougher against their traditional opponents this winter.
The two institutions may still have dominated the Craven and Academy Week selections, but it was most refreshing to see players from some of the less fancied schools getting the chance to display their talents at St Stithians in July.
The reassurance alluded to above does not stem from hostility, but from the knowledge that not even such prominent establishments are prone to the occasional trough between the crests.
For Outeniqua (10-5), the major problem was a spate of injuries that struck early in the campaign. This becomes more significant when one considers that even the Garden Route Titans don’t have anything like the strength in depth of their bigger urban counterparts.
They started well enough, beating Sentraal (FS) (59-19) and Brackenfell (27-15), but took a physical and mental pounding at North-South, losing convincingly to Menlo Park (30-49) and Waterkloof (15-34).
There was only time for a 47-16 mauling at the hands of Paarl Boys’ High before the wounded Quaggas headed for Wildeklawer, where the relief of a 28-21 win over Welkom Gym was quickly replaced by the agony of a 34-0 thrashing by Affies.
One week of provincial trials later they headed to Stellenberg where they lost a very close-fought game 38-43.
This state of affairs couldn’t continue and their fortunes duly changed when they downed a spirited HTS Drostdy team 24-21 on 20 May 2017 in their first home game of the winter and followed it a week later with a 19-15 thriller against Oakdale at the same venue.
As the injured players returned, so did the team’s confidence and they won their remaining five games 81-20 away to Langenhoven Gym, 88-17 vs Durbanville, 27-24 vs Paarl Gym, 62-19 vs Oudtshoorn (all at home) and 36-15 at Framesby.
Full-back Darren Fortuin, centre Emilio Otto, wing Dillon Pieterse, flyhalf James-Henry Mollentze, halfback partner Sylvester Hassien, no. 8 Ruben Coetzee and lock Louis Meiring were all selected for the Craven Week, while wing Herschell Otto, scrumhalf Aylen Schabort, flank Braam van Huyssteen, tighthead Conrad Ackermann, hooker Stephan Leonard and loosehead Alexander van Biljon got the nod for the Academy Week side.
Mollentze carried the team with 228 points, which included eleven tries, the next best contributions coming from flank Andreas Breytenbach, Coetzee and Otto (8t apiece) and Leonard with seven five-pointers.
This was always expected to be a trying year for George’s finest, but encouraging performances in the junior age-groups, particularly the Under 14s, seem to indicate that brighter days lie ahead.
The powers that be at Oakdale (9-7) are well aware of at least one of the obstacles to their success.
The greatest impediment is their obligation to play at their own annual festival, which prevents them from gaining valuable early exposure against some of the national big guns at the Easter showcases.
Another one that becomes obvious when all the results are in front of you is the numerous gaps which stand in the way of their building up any momentum.
However, their festival did provide one unexpected bonus as an Invitation XV, necessitated by a late withdrawal, granted plenty of senior-level exposure to their second team players.
A tough 17-15 win over Argentinians San Isidro and a 22-31 setback at the hands of the French national Under 17 side at the Markotter were followed by undemanding outings against Kempton Park (50-7), Diamantveld (34-6) and Potch Gym (64-12), hardly ideal preparation for the arrival of a rampant HTS Drostdy side, who beat them 24-13.
Mixed success at Wildeklawer (8-32 vs Monument, 40-19 vs Garsfontein) was followed by a quadruple whammy of defeats against Paarl Gym (31-27), Outeniqua (15-19), Paarl Boys’ High (31-36) and Paul Roos (10-27), quite possibly as daunting a sequence of fixtures as any team could have experienced anywhere in the country this year !
Then, after 10 June, they only had four fixtures, whipping Langenhoven Gym (78-0) before ending in style, beating Marlow (47-31), Framesby (24-17) and outlasting Boland Landbou (14-12).
Like Outeniqua, the Bulls provided the bulk of the provincial Under 18 teams.
Right wing Janco Klinck, centre Jay-Cee Nel, halfbacks Clyde Lewis and Lian du Toit, flank JC Lourens, lock Dániel van der Berg, hooker SP Kleynhans, loosehead Dian Bleuler, reserve front-rowers Keano Hendricks, Nicolai Weber and Magnus Muller and loose forward Hanu Heunis made the Craven Week squad; full-back Pietie Uys, centres Luke Hertz and Joaquin Taute, no.8 Hannes Gous, locks Pieter Ferreira and Henko Beukes were selected for the Academy Week side.
Nel (95 points) and Uys (72) shared the kicking duties, while Lewis and Bleuler (nine tries each) and wing Marcel Neethling (8) led the charge to the opponents’ in-goal areas.
The region’s three medium-sized schools had seasons that they’d just as soon forget. Nevertheless, despite there being few highlights, the odd beam did penetrate the darkness.
Punt (7-0-6) showed signs of having finally rounded a very long corner in their fortunes, registering a couple of notable wins, especially those against Ben Vorster (20-17), English tourists UCS Hampstead (36-22), Oudtshoorn (19-16) and Despatch (28-10).
However, their away form was unimpressive, two trips to the Boland seeing them thrashed 48-0 by a very average Worcester Gym side and 59-17 by Hermanus, while their interschools visit to Langenhoven Gym resulted in a 13-15 defeat. In addition, comprehensive home defeats to HTS Daniel Pienaar (26-52) and PW Botha (7-35) ensured that the points against outweighed those for 320-240.
The selection of no.8 Joshua Hermanus and flank Sidney Volkwyn for the Craven and Academy Week sides respectively also inspired hope for the future of Mossel Bay’s finest.
At home, Oudtshoorn (7-0-9) put in some commendable performances – if you ignore a 46-5 hiding against Marlow. They ran Brackenfell close (21-24), beat Pearson (28-13) and proved too good for local rivals Langenhoven Gym (36-21) and Punt (38-5)
Unfortunately, their results on the road made even Punt look formidable. The only success the Struisies could muster outside the ostrich capital of the world was an unpleasant 28-24 win against George; their other five road-trips seeing them accumulate 38 points and ship 220.
Three players – tighthead Robin West (CW), hooker Malusi Khumalo and centre Lyle Mtembo (both AW) – gained SWD caps, while the main contributors as far as scoring was concerned were full-back Jaylen Pretorius (71) and centre Tiaan Fourie (nine tries).
Even the inclusion of loosehead GW Lund in the Academy Week team couldn’t help Langenhoven Gym (4-0-11) shake the cannon-fodder tag.
For example, they won their first two games (13-5 vs De Kuilen and 24-19 vs Jacobsdal) and their last one (15-13 vs Punt) but lost to everyone except Schoonspruit (27-26) in between.
Scoring wasn’t the problem as much as the fact that their opponents scored even more. Defeats to Bredasdorp (31-37), Jim Fouché (12-71), Swartland (5-41), Outeniqua (20-81), Montagu (9-27) and PW Botha (18-22) were probably of more interest to Maths Literacy learners than to the team’s supporters.
Those were the homes games; away from home, they were made to suffer by Oudtshoorn (36-21) and Oakdale (78-0).
Only centre Bradford Hendricks (six tries) seemed to offer scrumhalf and kicker PJ Sauls (79 points) any real assistance.
The surprise team – and also the best performers in the SWD – were little Langenhoven High (12-0-5), who ply their trade a few clicks closer to the economic hub that is Riversdale than more celebrated neighbours Oakdale, their statistics placing them slightly ahead of Outeniqua.
Even they didn’t start that auspiciously, losing away to Hopefield (0-17), HTS Bellville (12-28) and Vredenburg (7-22) at festivals in the Cape Town area.
Home games were a horse of an entirely different shade. The Dasse conceded defeat only once, (12-15 to town rivals Gerrit du Plessis) and sent the likes of Montana (53-7), Jan van Riebeeck (47-22) and Robertson (26-22) packing in no uncertain fashion.
Flyhalf/full-back Byron Esau (87 points) did not enjoy a particularly fruitful year from the tee, but second-rower Allister Miggels, hooker Dean Britz (ten tries each) and centre Jowin Pieterse (nine tries) more than made up for this.
The cherry on the top was an Academy Week call-up for Miggels, but even he would admit the part played in this achievement by his never-say-die team-mates.
The good luck stories don’t stop there. York (6-1-7) may only have returned a fairly moderate set of results, but 2017 saw them gain the school’s first ever Craven Week cap in tireless flank Sibusiso Vilani, while pivot Duren Joseph made it into the Academy Week squad.
Knysna (3-0-8) did take a few batterings, not least at the hands of Langenhoven High (0-28), Paulus Joubert (15-43) and PW Botha (5-52), but they took the derby against the local secondary school (20-27) and left the banks of the Bitou River with a 20-10 victory over Wittedrift under their belts.
In addition, they can take considerable heart from the four bonus points they raked in for losing by less than eight or less point margins, which should give the proud Elephants something to trumpet about until 2018!