IMG 6539

Bird on the wing.  Bishops flank Jono Bird (left) receives an offload from inside centre
Mikey Ford - the school’s headboy for 2020 - during their team’s 21-10 defeat
away to Rondebosch on Saturday 17 August 2019.  (photo: Madison Beley)

It might be the time of year when very little generally happens at schools apart from the writing of exams, so the information I received when innocently inquiring about the availability of a Boland regional fixture list for 2020 was all the more surprising.

The release of the fixtures had been postponed, I was told, so that a meeting could be held to discuss a request by Strand High School that they be incorporated into the Boland schools rugby structures, starting in 2020.

My surprise stemmed largely from Strand being one of the major forces in local schools rugby back in my schooldays, their powerful pack being held in high regard by most local opponents. 

But the fact that they had considered moving didn’t surprise me one bit.

Nevertheless, a quick phone call to a senior rugby figure at the Helderberg giants not only confirmed that they had made the approach, but also noted that, after discussions with the Western Province schools body, it had been decided to maintain the status quo, for the time being at least.

Problem solved; case closed; let’s turn our thoughts back to the holidays.  Not so fast.  A little more attention needs to be devoted to the situation which gave rise to this request.

On the face of it, the major motivating factor was that rugby is the only sport at the school which is not affiliated to the Boland, but anyone with half a brain cell could tell you that there are several far more cogent arguments for their making such a move.   

Let’s look at the invidious situation in which the school finds itself. 

The prime reason would appear to be that, in order to maintain a top-flight (or at least reasonably high profile) rugby presence, one needs to be able to boast provincial representation.

This serves a dual purpose.  Not only does it suggest to the parents of prospective learners in the school’s catchment that they would be making a wise choice by sending their youngsters there, but also it reaffirms a sense of self-worth among the coaching staff at the school, thereby boosting their vital commitment to the cause.

The parents note with interest the fruits of the coaches’ labours while the coaches enjoy some hard-won recognition.  The one drives the other.

This is where reality bites with a vengeance. 

While the area boasts several primary schools which feature prominently when it comes to provincial selection time, as soon as a youngster even looks like displaying the tiniest glimmer of talent at rugby, he is offered a place at one of the big out-of-town schools, schools which arguably have enough provincial and international learners - and old boys - to rival any school or set of schools in the world.

The irony is difficult to miss : the youngsters decide against a school that would love to offer them the chance of selection for Boland and opt instead for ones that everybody in South Africa - except for the Western Province - has felt for years should, on strong geographical grounds, be part of that province !

A figurative blood nose to the local leadership apart, the greatest problem would surely have been the impact such a move might have had on both the Western Province Premier B and the Boland fixtures.

In fact, this turns out to be negligible.

Each WP Premier A and B school is given three vacant slots on the fixture list that they can fill as they wish.  In the 2020 programme no Premier A sides and only DF Malan and Tygerberg in the second tier are down to play Strand - one must bear in mind that, unlike in the top flight, there is no pressure whatsoever on B league sides to play everyone in their section.

If the Beach Boys had, in fact, joined the Boland, they would have been incorporated in the Central section, which comprises Bergrivier, Charleston Hill, Franschhoek, Groendal, Hugenote, Klein Nederburg, Kylemore, Labori, New Orleans, Noorder Paarl, Paulus Joubert, Stellenbosch, Stellenzicht, Wellington High and Weltevrede. 

The requirement - not instruction, note - is that sides play at least 50% of the teams in their section.  Strand are already down to play Hugenote and Stellenbosch in 2020, so they would have felt obliged to fit in midweek games against five of these schools.

It goes without saying that their interaction with these institutions would have been of great mutual benefit.

The bottom line ?  While change, the enemy of so many, has not taken place, the whole matter has definitely made for a very interesting theoretical discussion. 

Perhaps the WP schools executive can add an extra course to their festive fare : food for thought.



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