DHS versus Hilton and Michaelhouse versus Westville will take centre stage in KwaZulu-Natal schoolboy rugby this coming weekend.
DHS – Hilton
A few years ago, this might have been graded as just another of the annual derbies in the province but in 2017 it’s a potential a KZN match of the season in the making. This is because both teams are showing form at the moment and on paper it looks like they have the personal and capability to carry that form all the way to the finish line in June. That kind of consistency would result in the highest in-province finishes for both schools in quite some time.
It is by no means an attempt to overrate either side’s chances of success. There is a reality brought on by the congested season ahead – depth charts are likely to be a tested factor. Based on how the 2016 season ended, there probably aren’t two KZN head coaches more aware of how a poor finish to a campaign can ruin the overall impression,spinning what might otherwise have been remembered as good season, into an under-performing forgettable one.
There are already so many good things to write about DHS’s early season form. Their outstanding conditioning, their individual playing skills, their reliance on their wealth of experience gained through 1st XV caps and their fast-paced style of play make for very attractive to watch schoolboy rugby. Even without the centre pairing of Trent Askew and the South Pacific-like midfield Onke Jiba, DHS backs still produced high tempo accurate running onto passes rugby to comprehensively beat Northwood 82-0 this past Saturday. And it’s not just ‘School’s’ backs that are busy paving themselves in glory, they have some highly rated forwards as well.
Backline players operating at high speed are a nightmare for any school defence to cope with. It therefore has to be top of Hilton’s priority list, to make those outside gaps as small as possible, perhaps by employing the blitz defence. The good news for Hilton supporters is that their team was very solid and structured defensively during the practice match against Glenwood. Not only that Hilton also earned nods of approval with ball-in-hand, so some very positive aspects about their attack. Hilton does not have the flashiness that DHS, so the former will depend a lot more on overall cohesion, recycled ruck ball and playbook designs off set and broken plays to manufacture holes and influence the scoring. One disadvantage that Hilton will run onto Van Heerden’s with this Saturday is preseason build-up. They made the most the opportunity against what’s expected to be a Glenwood squad in a chukka controlled match, but it’s one practice game versus the three match conditions ones that DHS has under their belt and it could be a telling factor.
There are some mouth-watering matchups ahead. These are two of them:
Its arguable the battle of the two best grade-12 scrumhalves in KZN: Sanele Nohamba (DHS) is the KZN Craven Week player who has a couple of SA under-18 distinctions behind his name as well, goes up against the creative Graham Curtis who was already playing with the senior’s confidence and authority about his game in 2016.
At lock the promising youngster Celimpilo Gumede (DHS) is very mobile backrow type player who will be up against a very different type of forward in big George Putter (Hilton) who is really beginning to look the part of a proper hard-grafting tight forward and go-to ball-carrier – definitely someone that both SARU and union scouts should be paying attention to in a year in which taller talented locks appear to be in short supply.
Michaelhouse – Westville
House’s match conditions pre-season for the big opener consisted of a practice match against a relatively unthreatening Clifton team. Although it was a good workout, whether it was enough preparation to take on a big school team like Westville remains a question-mark. Although Michaelhouse are the hosts and their Meadows home-ground counts for a handful of points against opponents like Westville, they might be able to claim underdog status. Westville was a head turning team a couple of weeks ago when they fought back to despatch DHS in a preseason shortened game, without really hitting their straps. However for some inexplicable reason they did not really push on from there and a week later the 17-7 result against Voortrekker with more summer sportsmen at their disposal didn’t give away any clues of their true potential. Ville however remain a dark-horse team ticking many boxes due to their good balance and they have lots to prove after a disastrous 2016 season but they will need to get their act together to get off to a regular season winning start.
Kearsney takes on Northwood on Saturday in a match they are clear favourites to win.
Apart from coaching motivation issues stemming from an imminent change, Northwood don’t have much by way of size, depth or high quality players this season, meaning they are bound to be in for a really rough ride. Just like the 0-82 result against DHS, other rivals are bound to record huge victories. This Saturday is unlikely to prove an exception. There shouldn’t be a shortage of heart in the Knights team though and their goal for the season should be to win the matches they are reasonably expected to win every year.
Kearsney 29 Welkom Gim 15
Kearsney recorded a useful win against a Welkom Gim team that at times were their worst enemies and are bound to improve.
The cons for Kearsney were the setpieces. Hooker Dan Cherry has a strong enough open play game to allow push for provincial colours this season but he and his jumpers simply have to up their lineout percentage significantly to help Kearsney gain needed platforms against stronger teams. Uncompromisingly tough Matt Heard has been tasked with not the most unusual but arguably the most difficult forward position switch in make in school rugby – going from the backrow to tighthead prop. It’s a clear indication that Kearsney has a depth issue in this department.
One of the pros of the One-Stripes victory was that highly rated talisman no.8 and captain Dylan Richardson did not disappoint after a quiet first half by his standards. The explosive player produced a few carries into heavy traffic and his extraordinary strength on his feet kept him moving forward in spite of the attentions of numerous well-sized opponents. The plays reminded one of a time when Natal legend Wahl Bartmann pulled off the same amazing strength feats.
There was a surprise package performance by young flyhalf Jacques Odendaal. He looks like a good prospect. It’s not every year that Kearsney has a threatening pacey back three like the 2017 trio who combined well on several counter-attacks.
Maritzburg College prepares for their titanic battle regular season opener against Grey College on 25 March by playing a chukka game against Pietermaritzburg neighbours St Charles this Saturday.
Glenwood and Clifton will both next be in school rugby action again against other opponents at the DHS Rugby Day on 22 March.