Donkey meat in a Quagga sandwich.  A HTS Drostdy player finds himself caught
between two Outeniqua defenders during his side's 22-38 defeat
in George on Saturday 13 July 2019.  (photo: Gavin Falck)

You don’t need me to tell you that we find ourselves emerging from one of the most dire periods in recent world history.  By the same token, it would be massively disrespectful to the families and friends of all those who have lost their lives in the pandemic to suggest that sport has been at the forefront of any compassionate human being’s thoughts at this time.

Nevertheless, with life - for now, at least - returning to a semblance of (a new) normality, it is not unreasonable to start thinking of the possibilities the immediate future might hold for school sport.

And so three recent announcements from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) have given rise to a sudden wave of renewed optimism.

The first announced that the first term of 2021 will now be ending on Wednesday 31 March with the second one commencing on Tuesday 13 April. 

There had been much uncertainty amongst rugby festival organizers concerning these dates, especially when the first term was rejigged to commence on 29 January 2021 in order to give matric markers a semblance of a holiday over the festive period.

The upshot is that the slightly shorter (by four working days) holiday begins with the Easter weekend, which briefly posed a problem for the organisers of the non-Easter events (Oakdale, TSRF, the Arthur Johnson Week in Mossel Bay, North-South Tshwane and Drostdy festivals).

The Oakdale, TSRF and AJW hosts have announced that their celebrations of the schoolboy game will now take place over Easter, an easy decision because none of the sides attending those weeks are among the “elite few” usually invited to the Easter (Kearsney, KES, St John’s, St Stithian’s plus Monument - which turns 100 next year) showpieces. 

However, North-South and Drostdy have been be forced to move to the week following Easter, meaning that two affected Drostdy entrants, Kearsney and the Donkeys, will be facing a very nasty shock of six tough matches in under two weeks after thirteen months of inactivity. 

Not that the other big guns have it any easier : virtually all the Noord-Suid participants will be playing just one fewer - five games - in the short recess.  Toss in the Wildeklawer Spectacular optimistically scheduled for May 2021 and the giants of the SA schools fraternity are looking at a gruelling seven games in little over a month !

It really doesn’t make any sense for anyone to embark on a programme that starts with such a concentrated explosion of games, but in these times exposure at the top level unfortunately comes at a heavy price.

The finalization of the terms will also come as a blessing to the sports organizers in the Boland schools where arranging fixtures is left very much up to the individual schools. 

The second announcement was that schools could now practice non-contact sports and schedule matches, albeit only internally. 

Although this was a predictably cautious step in the right direction, one needs to bear in mind that it was hardly an earth-shattering concession to a sports-mad school population. 

Non-contact sports included cricket, tennis and the like, but hands-on codes, such as, interestingly, waterpolo (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), were still not permitted. 

If the government’s reaction to the horror of Covid-19 has taught us nothing else, it is that they - and, by extension, we - must not rush things.  Understandably, there is still considerable concern - and quite justifiably so - about the possibility of a second spike in the disease.  This is already being seen overseas, where most of Western Europe, Russia and large parts of the USA are currently experiencing a worrying resurgence in infections.

One reads daily of this or that prominent sportsman testing positive, even resulting in the frequent cancellation of fixtures at the last minute.

The DBE will in all likelihood err on the side of caution when implementing a full relaxation of its restrictions on school sports. 

That said, the announcement last week that amateur and schools rugby could begin practising immediately came as something of a bolt from the blue.

However, the devil in the details is the process to be followed.  Although it was predictable that no matches can be played until 2021, amateur clubs have to undergo four weeks of fitness and strength conditioning, followed by a similar period in which skills and contact work are gradually integrated.  Plus there are very stringent protocols to be followed.

One can only presume that much the same conditions will apply to schools rugby preparations.  But, with it now being summer and that end-of-year exam time is fast approaching, it is reasonable to assume that for most learners, these preparations are unlikely to start before the beginning of the new school year. 

This, of course, raises a further problem.  Most learners also take part in summer sport, which means they might not find it easy to fit the rigorous rugby reintroduction programme into an already busy schedule.

Another question that is going to have to be addressed in due course is the attendance of spectators at matches, which is so vital to the spirit and purpose of schools rugby.

No-one said it was going to be easy plus no-one wants to gamble with youngsters’ lives.

The recent UEFA European Nations football matches have only seen the occasional smattering of spectators, a situation which is unlikely to improve markedly given the worrying second spike in the pandemic.

To illustrate just how frustrating times have been frustrating for us all, spare a special thought for Rondebosch, generally regarded as the no. 1 cricket school in the country and right up there when it comes to waterpolo as well.

As of 12 October 2020 week, an open waterpolo club will have full use of their pool - the same group had been practising in Wynberg until the official paperwork had been processed - but the school’s pupils haven’t been allowed to hit the water up to now unless they are registered club members ! 

Likewise, until the recent DBE relaxation, the cricketers couldn’t practice, but could only enjoy the use of their own state-of-the-art indoor facilities if they were paid up members of the Gary Kirsten Academy, who were fully authorised to use them.

Not that anyone’s complaining - far from it.  If the seriousness of the situation needed any reinforcement among the learners, the revelation this week that several of their number had contracted Covid-19 at a local watering hole due to their failure to observe proper preventative measures should have driven that point home pretty emphatically.

It might seem like a case of one step forward, one step back, which has understandably hugely frustrating to all schoolboy rugby players, but no-one can argue that it is better to be patient than to become a patient.

Good health to you all and good luck for the exams !



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