Thundering hooves! Veteran Drostdy lock Bronlee Mouries (red jersey) surges towards the Pretoria
Boys’ High tryline during the Donkeys’ 29-5 win at Kearsney in April. (photo: Charl van Rensburg)
English teachers advise against one starting a piece of writing with a definition of one of the key words.
I know, having been one myself, but the meaning of enigma – “something of puzzling or contradictory character” – so perfectly encapsulates the almost surreal situation regarding HTS Drostdy that even I must go against my better judgement.
The almost palpable aversion of just about all the Boland and an overwhelming majority of the leading WP Premier A schools to the Donkeys has rendered their position all but untenable.
It has meant that Drostdy, one of the biggest (and hardly surprisingly) strongest rugby-playing schools in the Western Cape, are being forced to look for fixtures all over the country in order to meet the expectations of their learners, their parents and, most importantly, themselves.
Yet, in stark contrast to this negativity, the teams they field every week play such a dynamic and attractive brand of rugby that they almost invariably garner high praise.
Paradox, enigma, conundrum, whatever: this is a situation which needs urgent attention, especially in the light of some very recent developments.
One should not lose sight of the fact that this is not some johnny-come-lately up-country school trying to make a quick name for itself: it can trace its proud history back some 114 years.
Some of its more recent alumni include the Liebenberg brothers, Wiaan and Hanro, both of whom captained the country at Under 20 level, the former’s squad actually winning the 2012 IRB Junior World Championship; the Roets brothers, Gerbrand and Wynand – who is doing his internship at the school; the Bartels brothers, Iewan and Marnu, legendary 1st XV captain Sakkie Burger, 2015 SA Schools cap Earll Douwrie and current WP prop Wilco Louw.
Even the story of how they acquired the nickname “The Donkeys” has a certain cachet to it. The only means of transport available to get them to their first away game, in Villiersdorp, was a cart drawn by donkeys. When they arrived, the locals laughingly yelled, “Here come the donkeys !”. Others might argue that it has more to do with their obstinacy. Read on and decide for yourself.
An increasing number of high schools are turning to player recruitment, not only at the end of their primary school careers, which is deemed acceptable, but also from one another, which is generally frowned upon as this shows disrespect for the source school’s input into the player’s development.
Drostdy have proven themselves to be ruthless in their pursuit of players, paying little or no attention to the niceties of persuading players to join them. They prefer simply to ignore the unwritten rule, call it an understanding, between the Boland schools that they do not poach players from each other.
Word gets around and the frowns take on a vocal element. The school’s lack of reaction to this groundswell of dissatisfaction merely makes things exponentially worse.
In July 2015, I was invited to have breakfast with several of the school’s decision-makers prior to the Bishops match at Trappespark. They wanted to propose that the Tony Stoops Rugby Festival should merge with their in-the-pipeline North-South event.
Having pointed out that just one reason why this would not be feasible was the concern of many of the TSRF attendees that their players might get poached by Drostdy, I was informed that they did not intend to poach in the future. Naïve enough to believe them, I offered to assist in speaking on their behalf to some of the other southern suburbs schools.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised either at the emptiness of their assurances or that they would forget my unwillingness to combine our festivals. Within two weeks, two small schools in their vicinity had contacted me to tell me that Drostdy had stolen players they could ill afford to lose and, late last year, they repaid my good faith by stealing a team from my festival, proof of which I can provide.
For several years now delegates to Boland schools rugby meetings have had to sit through repeated demands by the Donkeys that the other schools in the province be compelled to schedule fixtures against them. Needless to say, the more insistent the Worcester giants’ calls, the more adamant the resistance they face.
The only thing that prevented the situation reaching crisis point at the Malmesbury leg of the scheduled Boland trials was an unrelated strike by the Boland referees. The preceding weeks had largely been spent unsuccessfully trying to find a school that was prepared to take the field against the Donkeys !
Fast forward to earlier this month. When their annual local derby against the Donkeys, a Classic Clash, came up for renewal, the Worcester Gym governing body voted against it. Just one of the reasons given was that Drostdy had used this year’s occasion, supposed to be a celebration showcasing local talent, to approach several of the junior Bosvarke, one of whom had subsequently changed schools.
If a school barely five kilometres away shows such animosity towards them, how do think those who don’t have the privilege of living in their proximity feel ?
While Stellenberg and Tygerberg happily cross swords with them annually, the number of Western Province Premier A sides willing to play Drostdy has gradually shrunk to the point that only Bishops did so this year.
Cynics will insist that the only reason that school and, next year, Rondebosch, have scheduled fixtures against the Donkeys is because there is absolutely no chance of any of their pupils jumping ship for Worcester.
The disinclination of the other WP Premier A schools is far more pragmatic: they are not prepared to spend extensive amounts of money to go to what they regard as a very hostile environment, which they say includes the referees not being up to scratch and the behaviour of sections of the crowd becoming a little too animated.
To be honest, they should leave it at the financial outlay involved; the referees are not as bad as is claimed and I, for one, have yet to see any section of the crowd getting anything like out of hand. The more excuses put forward, the less credible they tend to become.
On a positive note, whether one has one’s doubts about where all the players have come from, the Drostdy teams continue to produce results which become all the more commendable given the great distances they have to travel to play them.
Of the WP Premier A tier, only Paarl Boys’ High and SACS can boast better records in 2017 than that of the Donkeys (12-1-5) and, with the degree of difficulty factored in, these lads might conceivably have passed the Newlands outfit too.
Memories of defeats in their opening home (13-21 to Argentinians San Isidro) and away (19-32 vs Paul Roos) soon became consigned to history as Renier de Villiers’s men beat Marais Viljoen (26-19) and Middelburg (48-5) and drew 26-26 with Transvalia at the North-South event in Worcester.
Just over a week later, they went one better at the Kearsney Easter Festival, downing the hosts (45-17), Dale (26-25) and Pretoria Boys’ High (29-5). The first fixture of the regular season continued their upward trend as they beat Oakdale 24-13 in Riversdale.
After a welcome fortnight off, a refreshed team crushed Worcester Gym 47-5 at Bosvarkpark and Bishops, 32-26, a week later, at Trappespark. There followed away defeats at the hands of Outeniqua (21-26) and Noord Kaap (20-22), the latter due only to a missed penalty in the closing minutes, before a comfortable 54-24 home win over Hugenote brought a very busy term’s activities to a close.
The four remaining fixtures resulted in home wins over Tygerberg (47-24) and Duineveld (12-0), an away defeat to Stellenberg (19-24) and a successful return to Kimberley, where they beat Diamantveld, 37-28.
Thirteen players gained selection for Boland. Full-back Cohen Jasper, outside centre Christie Grobbelaar, left wing Larren Buys, scrumhalf Romeo Eksteen, loosehead Trevor Laubscher, hooker Greyling Geldenhuys and utility back Shaun Baxter made the Craven Week team; right wing Adrian Maans, inside centre Berto le Roux, no.8 CJ van Rensburg, tighthead Duan Bredenkamp, reserve frontrower Thomas Bezuidenhout and reserve scrumhalf Luciano Elias got the nod for the Academy Week squad.
Jasper announced his arrival on the local scene with 172 points, which included eight tries, but the efforts of Grobbelaar (12 tries), Eksteen and lock Bronlee Mouries (each ten tries) and wing Keanu Mong (eight tries) undeniably contributed hugely to the team’s cause.
It comes as little surprise that the men in scarlet have been honoured with an invitation to Wildeklawer 2018. One can only hope that they will still be able to field their best squad, after facing six games in eleven days during the Easter vacation.
A donkey is a thing of wonder, says the popular ditty. What a shame, then, that when it comes to these Donkeys, the only wondering many people do is regarding from which schools their players were poached.
My unreserved apologies for alleging in this article, prior to this editorial correction, that Drostdy poached Charlie Hofmeyr players after a game in April 2014. It has subsequently come to my attention that this allegation was baseless.