“I remember struggling to sleep, my mind racing and hands sweating days before Saturday. The butterflies and excitement in the build-up during the week of a first team match were that much more intense for a Hilton/Michaelhouse.
“I still get goosebumps when I hear Brothers in Arms, the song that played during Main Quad war-cries on the Friday night.”
Thomas van der Hoven feature photo: Michaelhouse in possession on Meadows in the 5 May 2018 clash.
It is a measure of the impact the Hilton/Michaelhouse matches have on the participants when one learns that the comment above comes from a man who played 56 Tests for the Springboks before his career was sadly cut short at the age of 28. None other than the Michaelhouse Class of 2008’s Patrick Jonathan Lambie.
Of the 202 Hilton/Michaelhouse first XV rugby matches that have been played so far (Hilton won the inaugural match 6-0 in 1904) the Michaelhouse lads have won 99 with Hilton having won 93 and 10 of the matches having been drawn.
The excellent Murray Staats article that appeared in the Meander Chronicle May/June 2019 edition also mentions the rather unique scenario that played out in 1987 when the scorelines in the 2 matches were 7-7 and 9-9.
In a Covid-free world. this past Saturday, 12 June 2021 would have been the 205th match between the Hilton College and Michaelhouse first XVs. Because of Covid, however, this past Saturday marked the 3rd successive cancellation of this hallmark biannual event on the KZN and SA schools rugby calendar.
The last time the flagship rugby teams of Hilton and Michaelhouse met was on 15 June 2019 when Hilton prevailed 28-8 away on Meadows. Because of Covid the 2020 Hilton and Michaelhouse first teams never got the chance to experience what is a landmark event in the lives of everyone who has had the privilege of being a player in it over the last 118 years.
There was much hope and anticipation this year that the matches would take place – even if without spectators, which number in the thousands in a normal year.
Hilton, under the captaincy of number 8 and head of school Nick Hatton, had started the year with much promise, accounting for Northwood 31-6 away on 8 May in what, in recent times, was a late start to the season (because of Covid) before beating Durban High School (DHS) in convincing fashion 44-5 at home in their lone match on Gilfillan the following Saturday.
Then came the controversial call from government to ban school contact sports, despite government admitting that there was no evidence to suggest Covid was being transmitted during matches. Instead, government said, the virus was being spread outside the confines of the school grounds. Studies in Britain confirmed that there was no evidence to suggest Covid was being spread during matches.
Due to the delays in the school year and other Covid-related concerns, what would have been a very short season for Hilton anyway – just 7 matches were scheduled this year – has to date been cut down to the 2 matches already held. The matches that followed the DHS match – against Glenwood and Westville, which surely would have been hotly contested, were cancelled, as with this past Saturday’s Michaelhouse match.
There are still 2 matches left on the Hilton calendar, that against Kearsney College on 17 July and then Michaelhouse at home on 24 July in what would have been the return clash.
With the current Covid third wave issue, the prospects of these matches taking place appear almost nil. So for the second successive year, the two school’s premier rugby players will never know the thrill of being part of something that becomes a lifelong treasured memory for the participants.
As with Nick Hatton and Team Hilton, the disappointment for first XV fullback and captain Alexander Vermeulen and Team Michaelhouse must be profound.
Michaelhouse managed 4 matches before the cancellation, beating Clifton 30-5 in Durban before edging home side Kearsney 26-24. Then came 2 narrow defeats, going down 17-10 at Westville before a 12-3 loss to Glenwood 4 days later in their lone home match on Meadows.
Men of House still have 2 matches left on the calendar, at home to St Charles College on 17 July and then the away match versus Hilton on 24 July.
Of course this current scenario encompasses all KZN school winter contact sports so there are thousands of boys (in the context of this story) missing out on an experience that, for many of their predecessors, led to treasured memories and lifelong friendships.
Indeed, when Old Boys of the KZN10 schools gather, their teams and match-ups of yesteryear often form the opening lines of conversation and before long the fond reminiscences are being swapped back and forth.
With the school sporting calendar so congested as it is; competing sports treasure their time to shine during their allocated time slots through the year, allied to academic priorities, it seems that even if the Covid situation were to improve rapidly it would be too late for thoughts of squeezing in a Hilton/Michaelhouse rugby fixture somewhere.
We are all poorer for it.