Can the North challenge the South’s stranglehold in the 2017 South African schools season? THEO GARRUN reports.
The 2016 schools rugby season was a Western Cape show, with Western Province winning the main game at the U18 Craven Week for the second year in a row. The Paarl schools occupied three of the top six slots on most of the unofficial rankings lists of South Africa’s rugby schools.
The rankings need to be unofficial, because there is no definitive way of compiling a pecking order when the contenders don’t all play each other. They are, therefore, always controversial.
Few can argue with the top five or six schools in any year, however, because they generally do play most of the other top dogs, and they select themselves.
On that basis Paarl Boys’ High was the No 1 school in the land.
They were unbeaten in 2016 (as they were in 2015) and they were victorious over the next four on the list: Grey College, Affies in Pretoria, Paarl Gymnasium and Boland Landbou.
Also near the top on most lists were Monument, Gauteng’s top school and the source of the bulk of the Lions team that met Western Province in that Craven Week ‘final’ at Kearsney College last July.
The 2017 season is around the corner – pre-season tournaments are already under way and the first official matches are on 11 March.
Are Western Province going to come out on top at the Craven Week in Johannesburg in July, and who will dethrone Paarl Boys’ High?
The obvious contender from the north is Grey College, the most successful rugby school in recent times, no matter how you measure it. Also Affies and Monument, who are under new management and seemingly fixated on a breakthrough into the upper echelons.
Grey were well beaten by Paarl Boys’ (28-18) in Paarl in 2016, but that was their only defeat of the year.
The schools will meet again in Bloemfontein on 13 May and by then the Paarl school will have played Affies – they meet at the St John’s Easter Festival – so the Grey vs Paarl Boys’ encounter could well be the season decider.
Affies went down 29-25 to Paarl Boys’ at St John’s last year, and were vanquished by Grey in Bloemfontein, which were their only defeats. Their game at St John’s will be an early chance to show that the pendulum is swinging back to the north.
Krugersdorp’s Hoërskool Monument is the other school that might be able to dent the superiority of the Paarl schools.
They don’t play any of the top contenders, bar Selborne College and Boland Landbou, at the Kearsney Easter Festival and the Wildeklawer Super Schools Festival respectively.
Monument is the only one of the leading schools that play in a structured league competition.
This restricts the number of dates they have available to play outside their province. They remain the top side in the Johannesburg area, and quite a number of their Craven Week stars from last year are still at school. This year they will be guided by former Garsfontein coach Tjaart van der Walt.
As for the other contenders in the North vs South stakes, the aptly-named Noord-Suid tournament at Waterkloof from 1-4 April will give some indication of their strength.
Paarl Gym will be there, as will Boland Landbou, and they meet two of the up-and-coming northern schools, Garsfontein and EG Jansen. Selborne and Helpmekaar shouldn’t be ignored. They were ranked in most of the top-10s last year and their fixtures are of such a quality that a successful season could see them climb the rankings.
Let the 2017 season roll!
SELECTED 2017 NORTH vs SOUTH FIXTURES:
25 March: Affies vs Paarl Gym (Paarl)
1 April: Paarl Gym vs Garsfontein; Boland Landbou vs EG Jansen (Noord-Suid tournament)
4 April: Paarl Gym vs EG Jansen; Boland Landbou vs Garsfontein (Noord-Suid tournament)
13 April: Selborne vs EG Jansen (Kearsney Festival)
17 April: Monument vs Selborne (Kearsney Festival); Affies vs Paarl Boys’ High (St John’s Festival)
29 April: Paarl Boys’ High vs Selborne, Paarl Gym vs Waterkloof, Grey College vs Boland Landbou, Affies vs Paul Roos (all at Wildeklawer Festival)
1 May: Waterkloof vs Paul Roos, Grey College vs Paarl Gym, Boland Landbou vs Monument, Selborne vs Helpmekaar (all at Wildeklawer Festival)
6 May: Grey College vs Affies (Bloemfontein)
13 May: Grey College vs Paarl Boys’ High (Bloemfontein)
20 May: Selborne vs Grey College (East London)
19 August: Paul Roos vs Grey College (Stellenbosch)