A letter was received from a very disgruntled schoolboy rugby enthusiast who asked me to consider it and wanted a platform to express his dismay at the recent article which appeared in Rapport. Well, here goes, as is:
I smell a rat. The article in the Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, Rapport was titled, and I translate, ‘Schools Rugby: Who stood out and who dropped out?’ makes you wonder what is going on behind the scenes of schoolboy rugby.
The article seems to be an opinion-piece, at best, but the general public and the schoolboy rugby community may not see it as one and take it at face value. The part that got my skin cringing, was the section about Western-Cape agricultural school Boland Landbou. I attended the North-South tournament in Pretoria, as well as the Wildeklawer in Kimberley. This was NOT the team I saw being described. Boland Landbou the underachiever of the year? Seriously? Which planet are we on?
As an avid schoolboy rugby enthusiast, I had to raise one serious eyebrow and wonder if there is not more to this than meets the eye?
Boland Landbou has been one of the standout ‘light-weights’ around these past few years. The farm boys will have to forgive me, but based on their student numbers and the number of teams they are able to field on any given Saturday, they are not in the same category as the large traditional rugby schools they face weekend after weekend. If anything, they have guts, and they back up the guts with some really entertaining rugby.
They are able to stand toe to toe with some of the real heavyweights of the South African schoolboy rugby landscape, frequently facing and often beating tier one opposition during the course of any given season. They have a hellish fixture list against some of the best in local derbies, yet still, find the time to take on the big cannons at the various festivals around the country. They don’t get matched up with a middle of the road average Joe, they get matched up with the likes of Garsfontein and Monument and Grey College of Bloemfontein when they play at these festivals.
Their local derbies include quality teams like all the Winelands big boys and then they face-off against the best of the Cape Town southern suburbs, not to mention Eastern Cape schools like Framesby, Grey PE and then the highly regarded Oakdale from Riversdal.
My conscience propelled me to do a bit of research into their season, convinced my eyes were deceiving me, and this is what their season looked like:
They experienced a bit of a mixed bag, winning 56% or 10 of their 18 matches. Doesn’t sound impressive, agreed, but at closer inspection, the quality of their opposition speaks volumes in itself.
They beat EG Jansen in the North-South before losing in the final minutes against a spirited Garsfontein in what was one of the best matches I saw all year. The had the daunting task of facing the mighty Grey College at the Wildeklawer, but the Bloemfontein outfit was a class apart on the day. On the second day, they were up against Monument and after watching Monument man-handling Oakdale on the first day, I did not have much hope for the boys from the Boland, but to my amazement, they stood their ground and beat one of the best teams of the season. Sounding like an underperformer yet? Didn’t think so.
They lost quite a few, many only just, like SACS who were amazing this year, with only 4 points and Garsies with only 2 points. They lost with 3 against Framesby, 2 against Oakdale and a mere 5 points against the best schoolboy team in the country, unbeaten Paarl Boishaai. They were hammered by Grey College, but so are most teams, and the Stellenbosch team of Paul Roos Gymnasium was just too strong for them this year.
But it takes a team with a shared vision and a lot of heart to take on these top schools, and then go and beat many of them. They won against, and consider this list with due respect for their abilities on the rugby field please: EG Jansen, Monument, Stellenberg, Wynberg, Bishops, Rondebosch, Paarl Gimnasium (yes, THE Paarl Gymnasium), Belville, Muir and Windhoek. Quite an impressive list, and certainly one a school of comparable size could only dream of.
You could argue for them it was a very average season, sure. Underperformer, no ways! You cannot ignore their uniquely tough fixture list as mundane. Clearly these guys are not in it for the rankings and clearly, they don’t ‘pick’ their opposition to have an easier season, they go full blast against all comers.
The label of ‘underperformer of the year’ does not suit Boland Landbou, and if anything, it makes one consider some of the other opinions expressed in the article. Perhaps it’s just an uninformed opinion. The thing is, on the other end of that little paragraph are schoolboys, playing their hearts out, and coaching teams working their butts off, within the shortcomings usually associated with the lack of depth that comes with smaller numbers of participating players. We can only hope this was an error in judgement, we all make those, rather than something a lot more sinister.
Chins up, lads, you guys can be proud of your 2017 season.