Taking it in his stride! Strong-running SACS right wing Aaron Zeederberg tests the Bishops defence
during the sides’ 24-24 draw at the Piley Rees in May. (photo: Warren Williams)
They may have finished a lowly sixth in the WP Premier A standings and second in the struggle for southern suburbs supremacy, but SACS has emerged as the second most successful side in the top division of local schools rugby in 2017.
The reason for this is as simple as it is paradoxical: their form over the entire season (14 – 2– 4) was so impressive that even their woeful record against their fellow English schools (2-2-2) couldn’t put much of a dent in their overall return.
Their results against Rondebosch (14-14 and 22-36), Bishops (24-24 and 12-15) and even Wynberg (37-20 and 24-0) become even harder to understand when one considers that, even though Nick Maurer’s lads lost to Paul Roos (24-29) and Paarl Boys’ High (17-37), they confounded many critics by beating both Boland Landbou (22-18) and Paarl Gym (22-19) !
Nobody else on a list which includes a few daunting opponents could beat them. They trounced Ligbron 60-14 at TSRF 2017, saw off Michaelhouse (28-0), DHS (20-16) and St Andrew’s (Grahamstown) (24-15) at St Stithian’s and got the better of Selborne (17-13) and Grey High School (20-18) at the Cape Schools Festival.
They still had time to deal with Premier B hopefuls Bellville (49-12), Brackenfell (26-12), Durbanville (100-0) and Strand (55-8), all away from home.
In retrospect, the only surprising thing about their being rewarded with three provincial caps – scrumhalf Lucky Dlepu captained both his school and the WP Craven Week team, where he was joined by flank Sujai Ikemefuna, while hooker Anathi Kalipa got the nod for the Academy Week squad – is probably that they didn’t get a few more.
However, not all the players performed at their best throughout the season. For example, the unpredictable Jordy Hop was left out of the closing fixtures due to his self-confessed inability to commit 100% to the team’s cause.
But, with the likes of props Ethan Burger and Josh Barrett, hooker Ethan England, second rowers Storm Balchin and Jean Minnaar and loose forwards Craig Bylin, Declan O’Connor and Oliver Schuurmans doing the hard yards, adequate possession for flyhalf David Hayes, centre Chad van der Loo, wings Aaron Zeederberg and Ben Mazzullo and full-back Michael Abrahams was never going to be a serious problem.
Despite his occasional omissions, Hop posted 122 points, while Abrahams proved a more than capable deputy with the kicking tee, adding 87. As one might expect, Zeederberg (9t) and Abrahams (7t) were among the leading try scorers, but Kalipa (9t) and Burger (7t) were hot on their heels.
The late-season slump notwithstanding, this was a year to savour!
It might not be much consolation, but Rondebosch (10-2-8) did lay claim to the local crown by virtue of victories over Bishops (32-19 and 64-7), Wynberg (34-13 and 25-16) and SACS (36-22 away). Only a 14-14 home draw against the last-mentioned spoiled their report card.
The festival results were, at best, mixed, with wins over Pietersburg (50-3 at TSRF 2017), Jeppe (26-0 at KES) and Tygerberg (40-12 vs the Wynberg Festival) being counterbalanced by a 27-27 stalemate against Dale at Cape Schools and losses to festival hosts KES (17-25), Hugenote (32-34 at Wynberg) and Queen’s (18-22 at Cape Schools).
All four Winelands schools (Paarl Gym 43-21, Paarl Boys’ High 73-7, Paul Roos 52-15 and Boland Landbou 29-14) and Stellenberg (33-21) beat them, but they had the better of Bellville (39-34) and Durbanville (58-10)
Their problem was two-pronged: a lengthy and long-lasting injury list and maddening lapses in confidence – most visible in the Hugenote and Bellville matches – which manifested itself in several aspects, not least a maddening uncertainty as to who should be the designated goalkicker.
Their best form, towards the end of the season, coincided with the inclusion of young Ross Stone at flyhalf, who contributed 41 welcome points and freed captain Robbie Davis, the top points scorer with 80 (which included nine tries) to concentrate on his favoured position of scrumhalf. Five other kickers also did duty during the winter.
Outside centre DJ Falconer, who represented the WP Academy Week side along with no.8 Cal Smid and flank Mihlali Mgolodela, topped the list of try-scorers with eleven touchdowns, closely followed by Smid (ten), inside centre Zaka Sallie and left wing/full-back Ross Roode (nine apiece), although loosehead Seth Christian (seven) will probably tell you that, had the season lasted a few more weeks, he might well have passed the lot of them !
Two injuries proved particularly disruptive.
Van der Bijl Blake, who was expected to fill the role of the playmaker at flyhalf or inside centre and who had missed a large part of the 2016 season, was again sidelined for all but a handful of games. By the time Cape Schools Week arrived, his replacement Hugo Minnaar’s winter had also ended when he suffered a fracture in his hand.
Apart from those players mentioned above, there was a core group who flew the flag throughout, not least of whom were lock Braden Tredoux, utility forwards Jason Macleod-Smith and Jonny Murray, centre Zaka Sallie, utility back Ethan Seymour, flank Johann Strauss, who ended up on the wing, and hooker Shuaib Ajmoodien, who also packed down on the side of the scrum on more than a few occasions.
Fair enough, the season may have started with great expectations, which went largely unrealized until the business end of the campaign, but recent memories, fortunately, tend to last longest!
The traumatic impact of the near-fatal assault on coach Richard Smith in his home in June almost dealt Bishops (8-1-8) an irreparable psychological blow, one which only became truly apparent when he returned, in mid-convalescence, just before the second SACS game, his courageous presence on the touch-line inspiring his charges to an emotional away win.
Their ability to find positives in adversity further showed itself on the field when the long-term injury suffered by scrumhalf William Rose was effortlessly balanced out the effortless return of left-wing Ross Goodwin to the no.9 jersey he had worn at Under 15 and 16 level.
The Platinum Blues weren’t out of the challenge for the southern suburbs title going into the last game. Wins over Wynberg (24-20 and 31-18) and an away win (15-12) and home draw (24-24) against SACS left them needing to convincingly reverse their 19-32 first-round home defeat to Rondebosch. Few could have foreseen the abject display which saw them crash 64-7 at the Tinkie Heyns Field. Even fewer will ever forget it.
Apart from the Paul Roos game, which they lost 30-32 courtesy of a contentious conversion, they suffered at the hands of the country schools, losing 0-25 to Paarl Boys’ High, 24-44 to Paarl Gym and 14-48 to Boland Landbou.
A low-key opener produced a 34-10 win over Porterville and the resultant optimism was fuelled by a successful Eastern Cape trip, on which they beat St Andrew’s 29-21 and Kingswood 16-13, and a stirring second-half fightback that saw them beat Stellenberg 29-28, but defeats against KES (14-35, at the Wynberg Festival) and HTS Drostdy (26-32) more than cancelled out a 72-14 victory over Durbanville.
The fact that the three Academy Week caps – flank Justin Muller, hooker Ghaalieb Kenny and tighthead David Courie – were all forwards is significant only insofar as it hints that the backline was unable to produce a sustained spell of the school’s trademark talismanic flair.
Goodwin may have run in twelve tries, but the ace in the pack – literally – proved to be the all-round contribution of Kenny (65 points), who scored nine tries, took the kick-offs and 22 metre drop-outs and briefly did a fair job from the kicking tee before full-back James Ipser (47 points) was entrusted with that role.
The penetrative capabilities of centres George Spencer (eight) and captain Rob Macdonald (five) and right wing Murray Bruce (six tries) are perhaps not an accurate reflection of their efforts, while bit-part threequarters Reece Meyer and Matt du Plessis (three tries each) also played their part.
Kenny was the only regular member of the front row, his props including Courie, Terrence Pettersson, Olly MacRobert, Benjamin Nel and even Ross Doyle, who moved there from the second row, where Aidan Neill, Tim Sharples and, in the latter stages, Matt van Westenbrugge shared the lock position. The loose trio comprised Muller, lively Matt Norton and Felix Burt, although Sharples showed deft touches before being moved to the tight five.
The result was that the scrum was never completely settled, meaning that the sum of the individual contributions, however, committed they might have been, never really amounted to a particularly effective total.
The last few years have been pretty dire for Wynberg (5-0-14), but 2017 saw a truly abysmal run of results, in which they lost all six local derbies (20-24 and 18-31 to Bishops, 13-34 and 16-25 to Rondebosch and 20-37 and 20-24 to SACS), were soundly thrashed by three of the four out-of-towners (67-25 by Paarl Boys’ High, 62-17 by Boland Landbou and 103-12 by Paarl Gym) as well as Stellenberg (47-5), although they emerged with some credit from the 31-7 defeat at the hands of Paul Roos.
Their opening three matches, all at the KES Easter Festival, where they lost 17-42 to the hosts but beat Marlow (32-26) and Noordheuwel (38-10), ultimately constituted their best run, although they did see off Windhoek (45-29) and Lydenburg (31-10) at their own annual event.
The other three results – defeats at the hands of Grey High (30-40) and Queen’s (22-24) and a spirited 20-19 victory over Selborne, the last two at the Cape Schools Festival – left them with the unenviable record of not having beaten a single team from their own province this winter, which just about says it all.
David Botha (84 points) and Di Livio van Wyk (65) alternated at flyhalf and full-back and shared the kicking duties, sometimes within games, while the top try scorers were veteran warhorse no.8 Cameron Bowes (nine) and lively hooker Jason Alexander and inside centre Chris Colborne (six apiece).
Backline regulars included centre Ryan Biscombe, wings Chase Hermanus and Siya Nombakuse and scrumhalf Matthew Doyle. In the engine room, props James Pearse, Luthando Woji and Nicholas Witte and locks Mika Schubert and Liam Lotz helped Alexander to form a solid tight five, with Inga Halu and Saeed Fakier joining Bowes in the loose trio.
This was a fairly young side, with a fair number of players set to turn out again next year, but, even then, one can only wonder whether that isn’t more of a curse than a blessing.
The optimistic refrain of “Next year, next year” is starting to wear a little bit thin. It is becoming worryingly difficult to see them turning things around in the immediate future, something which does not bode well either for the school or its three Premier A neighbours.
It might not be easy to swallow, but the unpleasant truth is that the gulf between the four city schools and their Winelands rivals has probably never been wider than it is right now.
The problem doesn’t lie in the coaching or the players, but in the far more intense, dare one say semi-professional, approach adopted by the out-of-town institutions, with the possible exception of Boland Landbou, by far the smallest of the eight top-tier schools in the Western Province.