Thursday, 24 October 2019

Day 1 of the St David's Prep Schools Cricket Festival

Day 1 wrap up of the St David's Prep School Festival.
The first day of the Sportsmans Warehouse St David’s Marist Prep Cricket Festival on Thursday saw T20 matches played and it was the batsmen who caught the eye, with four half centuries scored despite the limited number of overs faced.
The top performance came for Alex Engelbrecht of St Peter’s Prep who smashed 83 runs of 46 balls, including 13 fours, against Heronbridge. He helped his side to 206/6 – the biggest total of the day.
Heronbridge’s Jacques Olivier got 50 in the run chase but they didn’t score quickly enough and St Peter’s won by 59 runs.
The other half centuries were notched up by Samrat Basu of Montrose, who made 58 against Laƫrskool Jan Cilliers and Malan du Plessis of Jan Cilliers who got 65 in the same game.
The best bowling figures were 4/18 by James Austen of Somerset College Prep against Clifton. James made 37 in the Clifton knock.
The festival continues on Friday and Saturday. On Friday the teams play a 50-over game and on Saturday a carnival style 10 over tournament.
St Stithians 127/8 (Roarke O’Sullivan 24; Sive Makuleni 2/13). Temba Bavuma XI 131/6 (Mpho Hlongwane 45, Rashil Bulla /23). Temba Bavuma XI won by 4 wickets.
Montrose 151/6 (Samrat Basu 58, Lwazi Xolo 36; Alexander Terblanche 2/18). Jan Cilliers 135/6 (Malan du Plessis 65; Leshaun Habana 2/7). Montrose won by 16 runs.
St David’s 117/5 (Roberto Marian 37, Grant Spencer 25; Alex Cannata 2/20). Cornwall Hill 110/7 (Tinashe Mbingo 19; Ben Archer 2/13). St David’s won by 7 runs.
Somerset College 108/3 (Ryan Hallendorf 33, James Austen 37). Clifton Prep 112/7 (Oliver Davis 26; James Austen 4/18). Clifton won by 3 wickets.
St Peter’s 206/8 (Keon Oearse 40, Alex Engelbrecht 83), Heronbridge 147/ 2 (Callum Hughes 41, Jacques Olivier 50. St Peter’s won by 59 runs.
Friday’s games
Cornwall Hill vs St Stithians
St David’s vs Jan Cilliers
Montrose vs Somerset College
Temba Bavuma XV vs St Peter’s
Heronbridge vs Clifton.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

The best teams don't automatically get the invitations

The question asked on The Backshot water polo social media site: “Is the OLD BOYS NETWORK killing off the growth of Water Polo?” opens an interesting, and not uncomplicated, discussion.

Here’s what the post said:

This team from Reddam Helderfontein have just won National Co-Eds in their first year of competing and without a single Matric, BUT... They weren't welcome to compete at the upcoming Saints Fest, despite beating teams that have been invited. And the reason given? They apparently dont have a "traditional connection". So it seems that tournaments have nothing to do with making sure the best teams get to compete against each other (Herschel, arguably the 2nd best girls team in the country at present have also not cracked an invite) but everything to do with who scratches who's back. You can only come to MY water polo tournament if I can come to YOUR rugby festival. Reddam, Umhlanga seem to have the same problem... no matter how good they get, they will never crack an invite to the big tournaments. Not because they aren't good enough, but because of some bullshit arrangement between the schools themselves. Or maybe we just need someone from the larger tournaments to explain to all those angry parents who have chosen to invest in growing the sport why their schools are apparently not good enough.

The short answer is no. Water polo, especially girls water polo, is still growing all the time and a lot of that growth is outside of the “old boys network”, whatever that is. If the “old boys network” refers to the older, more traditional schools (many of which are girls-only schools), then it’s also true to say that the game continues to grow at pace within the network, schools are investing in new facilities, have more and better coaches, field more teams and stage more and bigger tournaments.

So, the growth of water polo isn’t being killed by the traditional schools. The question posed flows, however, from certain schools (very successful ones) not being invited to certain tournaments. That’s a different story, and as I said, it’s not a simple one.

In the first instance, one has to acknowledge the efforts made by schools belonging to some of the newer independent schooling groups to thrive at water polo. Reddam House Helderfontein is one of the examples cited. Their boys won the National Co-ed Festival tournament, in their 1st year of competing. That’s a great achievement. The school is barely a year old, and it has undoubtedly the best indoor pool and training facility in the land. I was there while it was being built and the intention, openly expressed, was that it would become the centre of water polo in South Africa.

Recruitment and coaching will follow and I’d be surprised if that doesn’t happen. Reddam House Consantia showed it can be done. There are other schools who have built themselves into water polo powerhouses. Some are private schools of the type I mentioned – Crawford College Lonehill for example, and Reddam House Umhlanga, apparently. Other schools of various types have targetted polo as the sport they want to shine in, like Pearson and Stirling in the Eastern Cape and Clifton College in Durban. They have invested wisely, worked incredibly hard and they have the support of very strong parent bodies. They deserve all the success they are achieving.

The Backshot piece implies that there are certain “big” tournaments. I assume those are the ones that have been going longest (the ones that these new emerging powers aren’t invited to). The Saints Invitational tournament is named, others I’d guess, would be the SACS tournament and the King Edward Festival.

There are schools who play at those three events each year who are undoubtedly not as strong as some of those who don’t get to play there. If school sport were arranged on a league basis, with promotion and relegation in place, they would be out, and the rising stars would be in, no argument.

But that’s not how it goes. School sport has to be an educational activity first and foremost and that means winning, and the strength of teams, really have to take a back seat. If a principal agrees to the exclusion of a long-standing participant from his/her event because they are not good enough (and that has happened at one of the “big three” tournaments) then that principal is on shaky ground. morally and educationally, because winning is not supposed to be the objective of school sport.

And, remember, for every emerging school that “cracks an invite” to a tournament, an established participant has to be given the boot.

So, old boys rules do apply. But it’s not that simple. Life is about relationships and schools interact on all sorts of levels. Do you drop a school that you have played against in multiple codes for many years because their water polo team isn’t performing?

On the other hand, these tournaments are marketing exercises for schools and the organisers sit with a dilemma. Your tournament gains in prestige when you have the top performing schools in the land there, but then again it doesn’t look good for you when the new kids on the block walk off with the honours.

Of course there’s a fair degree of hypocrisy involved. As I said, it’s not uncomplicated.

Take a look at The Backshot - @theBackShotPodcast. It’s breathed new life into summer’s beautiful game.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Time to send the useless refs packing

I saw on Facebook yesterday that someone had gone to the trouble to note the exact times, minute and second, of the incorrect decisions made by Jerome Garces that disadvantaged the Springboks in the World Cup game against New Zealand on Saturday. He even supported his claims with clips from the game and he was right, right and right. The French ref, as we all suspected, is perfectly capable of seeing some things, while missing others.

That’s a bit obsessive, and typical of a fan who doesn’t want to accept that his team has been beaten, but it’s pretty good research.

There was no record of Garces’ decisions that went our way, costing the All Blacks and, of course a poor referee will make mistakes both ways. And that’s what Graces is, a poor referee who should never be allowed to appear at this level and yet, amazingly, he is clearly highly rated by the powers that be and is often given the biggest games.

I don’t go with those who call him biased – that would surely have been picked up by now. These matches are reviewed and dissected by the referee bosses and they wouldn’t allow it, although they don’t seem to mind some pretty basic errors of law, interpretation and eye sight.

I’ve spoken to one or two international referees in other sports and I’ve been told that at the Olympics, for example, a referee who makes a mistake on the laws gets sent home without officiating another game.

World Rugby have made it difficult for their referees by adding protocols, directives and interpretations to the laws. Those, surely, are now part of the laws and what happens in other games should apply. Sure, the referee can’t see everything but he should, especially now that the assistant referees have executive powers and there’s a TMO with the power of the slow motion replay. Please don’t appoint people who miss what’s going on.

Don’t make excuses for them – if they, between them, miss for example, Kieran Reid pulling back Du Toit at the lineout, send the whole bunch packing. The non-debatable principle is that the players have the right to have their game fairly and competently adjudicated. Anyone who prevents that from happening should not be there.

The late Norman McFarland, one of the sharpest rugby brains I ever met, used to compare a rugby game to a human personality. Events and occurrences early on influence how it develops later and it can change direction completely because of something that happens at any stage. He was fiercely critical of referees – I was on the receiving end once or twice – and that was precisely because of the effect an incorrect decision can have on the rest of the game.

It’s not as simple as keeping a tally of the points scored as the result of errors. It’s far more complex than that.

That’s why I don’t go along with those who say things like “Ja, the referee was poor but we would have lost anyway because we played badly.” In any game there are things that you can control and things that you can’t. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control how well the opponents play and, yes, you can’t control the referee and you have to adjust your play to fit in with the way he is blowing. But you do have the right to insist that he knows and applies the law consistently and that he doesn’t miss the obvious.

The players and coaches are the ones who really count here. Why not give them a say. They can’t decide who gets to ref them, I agree, but if they can show, with evidence of the kind that I saw on Facebook, that the referee can’t do the job, they should see him get sent home and never meet him on the field again.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Don't blame SA's soccer woes on the rugby-playing schools

The short, sharp Joburg high schools soccer season is under way.

Despite having the richest league on the African continent, the best stadiums and facilities, and the only continent-wide TV broadcaster, our national team is ranked near the bottom of the pile, it sometimes doesn’t qualify for the continental championship and often loses (like it did last week) to countries like Lesotho.

And It’s still, unbelievably, being said by those who are trying to explain why this is so, that one of the reasons for this debacle is that the well-resourced schools in the country don’t include soccer as part of their sporting programme and that some of them forbid the playing of the game by their boys.

They claim that our so-called top schools – independent and former model C, I presume – are all rugby institutions and they don’t practice the round ball code.

That’s nonsense! Soccer isn’t played at many Afrikaans medium schools, sure, but how many of the total number do they make up? Let them pay rugby I say, and you don’t hear many complaints when the products of those institutions shine for the Springboks in international rugby.

The fact is that soccer is big at most of big traditional rugby-playing schools, and it is of course played at the vast majority of the schools across the land. So, the problem is not one of access to the game, it’s one of not optimally using the school system as the major developmental nursery the way that rugby, does.

This weekend the annual St David’s Challenge Cup tournament takes place. It isn’t the biggest, or the only, schools tournament taking place at this time of the year, but there will be 32 school teams in action, under-19 and under-15. That’s close to 600 boys, and 90 officials. There will be 96 games played over three days, on quality fields, each one with qualified referees assistants and with every player wearing the proper team kit.

It’s the 17th time it’s being staged and they are close to getting the running of it like clockwork as is possible with an event of this size. Some teams may get stuck in the Joburg traffic, the weather may intervene, but I can pretty much guarantee that the grand final will kick off at 3pm on Sunday, as scheduled, followed by a prize-giving at which the winners will receive the spoils, and the also-rans will be given their due for the part they played in making it the tournament that it is.

It’s an elite sporting event, but it’s also an educational exercise – that’s important.
There are also tournaments at Kloof High School in KwaZulu-Natal, at Hudson Park in East London, at Grey College in Bloemfontein, at Joburg’s Waterstone and St Peter’s College’s, among others.

The participating teams will typically play five to six games over three days, which gives them as much game time in the four week-odd season as they would get in three months of weekly fixtures.

And there are weekly interschool fixtures as well. The biggest difference between these school and most of the soccer-only ones is that soccer is a mass participation activity and weekly games have to be arranged for multiple teams in all the age groups.

Down in Durban, it’s massive. When, for example, Westville Boys’ High plays Glenwood (both rugby powerhouses) it’s not unusual at this time of the year to have 25 soccer games on the day. It’s not something matched by the competitions organised by the SA Schools Football Association (Sasfa).

There’s something wrong with football in South Africa, that’s clear. But the problem doesn’t lie with the rugby-playing schools. If you don’t believe me, go down to St David’s Marist Inanda this weekend.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

The real highlights are the nice things that happen on the field.

I go on a silly little self-indulgent ego trip every Sunday when I post on Twitter what I regard as my sporting highlight of the weekend.

It’s an excuse to drift off for a few minutes and reflect on what I saw or heard of the day before and then try to pick out what I regarded as the “nicest” moment. Nice is totally subjective, of course, and I try to find that thing, for me, that’s a bit special, and it doesn’t necessary have anything to do with success on the field.

Sometimes, it appears, I strike the right note and quite a few people agree with me, via their like and retweet buttons. At other times they totally ignore me – not that there are that many that see what I have to say in the first place. But, as I said, I’m doing it for myself and it is really of no importance at all.

Sometimes there is more than just one nice thing happening on the same weekend so, because I make the rules, I allow myself to have two highlights. Like the time I saw Bryce Parsons of King Edward VII School smash a glorious hundred off 74 balls and, on the same day, I got to watch the fantastic Oranje Meisieskool hockey team in action at the St Mary’s Festival.

This past weekend was one of those. Jeppe High School for Boys played King Edward in the second leg of their double-header fixture and, after being well-beaten in the first encounter no-one gave them a chance. I never watched the game. I was there for the Jeppe hockey team’s 6-0 win, but then I wimped out in the cold and left early to meet up with the people I was going to the rugby Test with.

Jeppe won the game 25-7 and, by all accounts, they were never really troubled. A turnaround like that will always make my highlights list.

Then, as I said. I went to Emirates Airline Park for the game against Australia. I’ve seen some criticism, mainly of the empty seats, but I thought it was great occasion. The tributes to Johnny Clegg and James Small were tastefully understated, and using James’ kids as flagbearers for the Springboks was touching.

For me there were two really nice things about the game itself. Firstly Siya Kolisi’s servant leadership. He is injured at the moment, but he was out there before the warmup, putting out the cones and the training bags and he was busy retrieving and passing balls during the drills. And in the game, he put on the water boy’s bib and carried the bottles and the kicking tee on and off the field. He was miked up, of course, and was passing on messages from the coaching booth too, which is what all the water boys do these days.

I was at the Craven Week in Paarl two years ago, on the day when the Western Province senior team made an appearance at the field. They are contracted to do that, I guess, and most of the players looked rather bored, transfixed on their mobile phones with the ubiquitous bottle of water in the other hand.

Not Siya. He disappeared and popped up among the Eastern Province players, singing the Xhosa songs he had learned growing up playing school and club rugby in Port Elizabeth, with them. They were soon joined by the Border boys, who speak the same language, and sing the same songs.

There are two chapters straight out of any textbook on world-class leadership right there. Someone’s going to write a business school case study on leadership lessons from Siya Kolisi one day, if it hasn’t been done already.

And then there was Schalk Brits. The incident I mentioned was never shown on TV, I realised, when I watched the game again on Sunday. In the second half, Wallaby replacement hooker Jordan Uelese banged his head on Schalk’s hip while tackling him and went down, lights out. The ref stopped play and he was eventually taken off, but not before Brits had gone across to him, a good 25 metres away. He had a word, hugged him and tousled his hair. Great sportsmanship from one of the few rugby pros who always seems to play with a smile on his face.

That’s nice, and definitely one of my (three) sporting highlights of the weekend.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Not quite what Dr Craven had in mind

My friend Carl Fabian wrote a touching piece on his website about the Craven Week for the learners with special educational needs (LSEN) schools. And yes it is a Craven Week – Danie Craven sanctioned the use of his name for four rugby weeks: the high and primary schools Craven Weeks, the Craven Week for LSEN schools (called Special Schools back then), and a week for mine apprentices.

I don’t think the mines week exists anymore, I couldn’t find any reference to it. The others are going strong and, according to Carl, it seems, the LSEN Week is the one that is most closely sticks to what Craven had in mind when he first approved of schools interprovincial festivals.

He quotes a letter he “wrote” to Craven in 2016 in which he said: “The LSEN booitjies are still playing the game your way. They do not play rugby, Doc, hulle jol ruggas.”

He then goes on to bemoan the fact that the Academy Week organisers saw fit to match the selected national LSEN team and the LSEN XV against each other on the final day of the week in Bloemfontein this year. The boys, apparently, celebrated the fact that they were there at all and played that way – you wouldn’t expect anything else from those kids, would you? But before the game, Fabian says, one of them asked him: “Sir, why can’t we pay against the normal boys?” Touching.

It’s a window into a greater malaise. When asked if they would pit the Western Province and Western Province XV sides against each other in the main game, which seemed a likely scenario at one stage, an SA Schools Rugby official said yes. The teams are ranked, he said, and if those two were numbers one and two, they would meet in the final.

That is so far from Craven’s thinking that I would suggest that if they find a sponsor to replace Coca-Cola, they should consider dropping his name and name the week after it.

And I guess we will all have to get used to the fact that the Craven Week is not the showpiece of schools rugby that it used to be. Danie Craven’s principles are what made it special, along with the fact that we were seeing the cream of that generation’s players in action. That’s just not the case in either instance anymore.

Transformation of the game is absolutely necessary, but forcing all the teams to have more than 50% of their squads made up of black players at this level is not the way to do it. Good rugby players come from good teams, via good coaching and by playing with other good players against top opposition. That’s what happens in the top schools, week after week. The problem is that, outside of the Western and Eastern Cape, the top schools are fielding teams that are still mainly white.

If we are going to transform the game effectively it has to start at individual school level. Western Province is thriving because it, for a long time now, chooses its teams on merit – there’s no need for a quota there. There are some great black players in the teams from the other provinces, but many of them were struggling to find 12 who could play against the best in the land, and it showed in Bloemfontein last week.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Boland is Boland, everywhere except at the Craven Week

Exactly one year ago, I wrote an article for SARugbyMag arguing that players from the Paarl and Stellenbosch schools should represent Boland and not Western Province at the Craven Week.
Here’s a link to it:

Yesterday the Golden Lions lost to the Western Province XV at the 2019 edition of the week at Grey College in Bloemfontein and, because I’m no longer a reporter, I can declare that I’m a supporter, and it wasn’t much fun watching the game on TV.
The Lions were beaten fair and square, by a “B” team with several players in its ranks that would comfortably have made their team, and that of the other provincial teams that I watched in pre-Craven Week warmup games.
I did enjoy the Afrikaans commentary on SuperSport though, particularly that of Marco Botha – a Media 24 man who attended many Craven Weeks as a rugby writer and has a deft turn of colourful Afrikaans phrases.
It was one those which took me back to what I said last year. He told us, in Afrikaans, that one of the WP players was the Boland hurdles champion, so he could jump over the ruck rather than go around it. A clever image, but, what?!
Why does he do athletics for Boland and play rugby for Western Province?
That’s the issue. It’s not a new one, nor is it anything that will change any time soon, but that doesn’t mean I’m going along with it quietly, like everyone else seems to be doing.
I’ve still not been able ascertain how this situation came about, or who leaned on who in 2002 when after one year of fair play with everyone playing for the provinces that they lived in, the SA Schools Rugby authorities did a U-turn and allowed the Paarl schools back in to WP again.

After my column was published last year someone did offer an interesting explanation, one rooted in old historical social and political alliances which saw the cream of Paarl society distance itself from those who live on the other side of the Berg River. I haven't been able to find out if that was true. 

If you look at Tuesday’s team sheet you’ll see that 14 of the 23 players in the WP team are from schools that belong to the Boland unions of every other sporting code they participate in. There are those who argue that the current arrangement gives opportunities to players at other schools in the Boland to represent their province. That argument is flawed, of course. What about the 14 places in the WP XV that could have been filled by players from schools in Cape Town or other areas who actually fall within the Union’s boundaries?

Sure, the system allows WP to send four teams to the under-18 Youth Weeks, but it also means that Boland only sends two. If we really have opportunities for players at heart, what’s wrong with that being the other way around?

No. We are dealing here with the same old issue in school rugby – winning is what counts, and the morality of how you win doesn’t really matter.

You cannot justify, on any grounds other than the (undisputed) excellence of the Western Province Schools rugby teams, a setup where boys play cricket for Boland and rugby for WP. It’s wrong, and it taints, for me, any success those teams have – especially, I confess, when the Golden Lions are on the receiving end.