With Covid-19 having wreaked havoc with sport all around the world, including, of course, the schools’ rugby season, we’re taking a look back at some past teams and, on this occasion, we’ll focus mostly on the Michaelhouse 1st XV of 1986, which also had its own issues with quarantine. The side’s captain, Bruce Herbert, chatted with KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.

Shortly after the start of the 1986 season, an outbreak of hepatitis saw the Michaelhouse 1st XV quarantined to the school sanatorium for three weeks, (the rest of the school continued to function normally) undermining the form of a very talented side, which produced five Natal Schools’ players, including Bruce Herbert (prop), Philip King (hooker), John Pool (lock), Richard Firth (flank) and Murray Collins (scrumhalf). That was, at the time, a Michaelhouse record.

Bruce started in the 1st XV in 1985, having made the move straight from under-15 A after the departure of Mike Reilly, which opened up a place at tighthead prop. He was still 15 when he made his debut on a pre-season tour to East London against Selborne College. Up against players three or four years older than he was, it was no surprise he termed it “a massive baptism of fire”.

Michaelhouse were captained by Wayne Witherspoon, who was an excellent mentor, said Bruce. He used the lessons he learnt from Wayne when he was appointed captain the following year.

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The 1985 Michaelhouse 1st XV, captained by Wayne Witherspoon. Bruce Herbert is directly behind him.

He also mentioned some standout memories of the 1985 season:

Facing Glenwood at Glenwood, ‘House were 3-6 down, but they had a penalty right in front of the uprights to draw level. Victor Anderson, the fullback, who played Natal Schools in both 1985 and 1986, duly slotted the ball between the posts to make it 6-6. But… The referee ruled that Richard Firth had been in front of Anderson and the successful kick was disallowed.

“Richard was next to me and we were definitely behind the kicker,” Bruce reckoned.

There was a late escape against Kearsney in a match played in Botha’s Hill. Down by a few points, Michaelhouse faced a 22m drop out from the home side. The kick didn’t gain much height and lock Sean Stringer plucked it out of the air before racing through to score to win the game for ‘House.

Then there was a game against Maritzburg College, a team that had lowered the colours of Grey College that year in a hugely anticipated showdown. Bruce reflected: “I remember thinking how small the College side looked before we ran on, a schoolboy error. I guess I was expecting much larger guys but, don’t get me wrong, they were tough. The loose head I scrummed against looked like a third year varsity student! Just remember, I was 16 years old.”

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Michaelhouse won the first of the Hilton/Michaelhouse derbies when Victor Anderson scored all of the red and white hoops’ points in the last minutes of the contest. Hilton reversed the result in the second clash, claiming a 12-6 win in an ill-tempered affair.

It was tough for a 16-year-old Bruce Herbert in 1985, but it was excellent preparation for 1986, even though he remained young, turning 17 in April.

To put it into context, Bruce was born in Eshowe hospital on 11 April 1969. Pete Smith, who attended Maritzburg College, was born in the same hospital the day before Bruce. Yet Bruce captained Michaelhouse in 1986 and Pete captained College in 1988, two years later! By then Bruce had played for two years for the Natal and SA Air Force under-20 teams.

Fortunately for Bruce, during his time at Michaelhouse he captained some very strong teams at age group level. He led the under-14 A team in 1983, the under-15 A side in 1984, and then moved up to the 1st XV the following year, culminating in him captaining the team in 1986.

The under-14 A team lost just one match in ’83, going down to DHS away from home, while the under-15 A side fell in their last game of the season only, going down to Hilton at home. “Methinks a bit of complacency crept in,” he ruefully admitted.

Along the way, though, there were wins over the always-strong Maritzburg College at both under-14 A and under-15 A level, as well as victories over the big government schools: Westville, DHS and Glenwood.

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Bruce attributed much of that success to the under-14 A coach, Gordon Paterson, who put together five excellent seasons while in charge of the team, with winning percentages of 92% in 1977, 85% in 1978, 100% in 1979, 80% in 1982 and 92% in 1983. He missed out on the 1980 and 1981 seasons because he was busy with his PhD at Stellenbosch University.

So, on to the 1986 1st XV. Statistically, it was the most successful Michaelhouse team of the 1980s, winning 14 and losing five games for a 74 percent winning mark. With four Natal Schools’ players in the pack and the Natal Schools’ scrumhalf, it was a powerhouse up front. But hepatitis likely cost them an even better record.

A win that stood out was a 52-32 defeat of the Old Crocks, who were loaded with former Natal provincial players, including former Springbok eighth-man and Natal skipper Tommy Bedford. That Old Crocks’ team included Tommy Bedford (c), Tim Cocks, Gary Joubert, Laurie Sharp, Tubby Hannaford, Robbie Savage, Garth Giles, Peter Ripley-Evans, Rodger Bond, Brian van Rooyen, Wally Watt, Dave Coleman, Brian van Zyl, Dick Cocks, and Matt Taylor.

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The clashes with DHS and Marizburg College were undermined by illness. College flyhalf Udo Goedeke, in an interview with KZN10’s Jono Cook in 2018, said Michaelhouse were favourites to win their showdown.

“I think they sensed victory and all their regulars were keen to play. Injury and illness meant quite a few had to pass late fitness tests.

“It was very close at halftime. We led 9-6. The second half was incredible. [SA Schools’ centre] Jeremy Thomson really turned it on for us. It turned into the Jeremy Thomson Show; he ripped their defence apart.

“The College team’s contribution was awesome. It was a massive second half for us. To be fair, I think the Michaelhouse injury and illness concerns pre-game were a contributing factor. They faded badly in that second half.”

The game ended 40-6 in College’s favour, which was testament to just how much the hepatitis had hit ‘House. The following week, the DHS game was a very close affair with the Durbanites edging it 12-10.

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Later in the season, Michaelhouse showed their true colours in a narrow defeat to Bishops at the Private Schools Rugby Festival at Hilton. Bishops were very much the Cape Town equivalent of College in those years and renowned for the flowing, attractive rugby they played under the legendary coach Basil Bey. To put it into perspective, the Bishops’ side was unbeaten in 1986, beating the likes of Paarl Gym, Paarl Boys High and Paul Roos (they didn’t play Grey College), as well as all the Cape’s southern suburbs schools. (SACS, Rondebosch, Wynberg etc.)

“We were unlucky to lose 13-18 to Bishops,” Bruce Herbert said. “We knocked on the ball over their line! As they say, could have, should have, would have.”

The Natal Witness carried a report on the Michaelhouse versus Bishops thriller.

At the same tournament, though, ‘House dominated Saint John’s 22-4 (remember tries were worth four points back then) and Saint Stithian’s 30-3.

They finished their season with narrow wins over Glenwood (18-15) and Hilton (19-17), but went down to Westville (18-29). “Westville had a really good game against us. We hammered them up front. However, they ran us off our feet with some really good speed and handling,” Bruce commented.

It was a remarkably closely contested season among Natal Schools: Michaelhouse beat Hilton twice, Hilton beat College on College Old Boys’ Day, College beat Michaelhouse, Glenwood beat College, College beat Glenwood, Michaelhouse beat Glenwood. The Kearsney vs Michaelhouse game was called off due to the hepatitis quarantine.

Natal Schools

That same year, Natal, coached by Dave Dell, and with six College boys, five from Michaelhouse, three from Westville, two from Hilton, one from Kearsney, one from Estcourt, one from Linpark and one from Glenwood enjoyed a strong showing at the Craven Week in Graaff-Reinet.

Michaelhouse’s Natal Schools’ representatives of 1986 with MHS masters: Bruce Herbert, Philip King, Rich Firth, Mr Gordon Paterson, John Pool, Murray Collins, and Mr Richard Aitchison.

The one player from Kearsney was Nkululeko “Skweegee” Skweyiya, the first ever black player to be selected for the Natal Craven Week team.

They opened their tournament against the always strong Northern Transvaal and after a tremendous tussle came away with a win, which was clinched through a penalty try after a late tackle on Jeremy Thomson. They followed that up with a narrow 4-6 loss to Eastern Province before beating Far North.

The Natal Schools’ team that competed in the 1986 Craven Week in Graaff-Reinet: 

Back row: Warren Wilson (Maritzburg College), Richard Firth (Michaelhouse), Richard Dolbey (Maritzburg College), John Pool (Michaelhouse), Sean Platford (Westville), Brenton Catterall (Maritzburg College), Sean Fry (Westville), Trevor Labuschagne (Glenwood).

Middle row: Murray Collins (Michaelhouse), Dallas Harris (Hilton College), Philip King (Michaelhouse), Udo Goedeke (Maritzburg College), Joe Fernandez (Linpark), Nkululeko Skweyiya (Kearsney), Leon van Rooyen (Escourt), Alastair Hawley (Westville).

Front row: Bruce Herbert, Dave Dell (coach), Anthony Gilson (Maritzburg College, captain), L. Kirkland (Manager), Carl Jankowitz, (Hilton College) Rod Blamey (chairman), Jeremy Thomson (Maritzburg College).

Jeremy Thomson and Leon van Rooyen (Estcourt) were selected for the South African Schools team. Bruce shared a story which Jeremy Thomson told him about the SA Schools’ team photo. Back then, of course, there were no digital cameras, so everything was done on film. Imagine the horror felt by the photographer when, after photographing the side for their official team shot, he went to develop the photos and discovered that he had failed to put any film in his camera!

Hilton/Michaelhouse derbies

Unsurprisingly, Bruce has particularly vivid memories of the Hilton vs Michaelhouse derbies in 1985 and 1986. “They were generally where the underdog often pulled off a remarkable win, like was the case in the first match at Michaelhouse in 1985,” he said. “The news coming from Hilton was that they were going to put 50 past us. Hilton had a good team and had had a successful season so far. As things turned out Victor Anderson scored all our points, scoring 13 points in the last eight minutes. I think we won 13-7.

“Etienne De Villiers who had been a teacher/coach at Michaelhouse for 16 years said that in all his time of watching Hilton/Michaelhouse matches this ’85 match was the best one that he had ever seen.”

Hilton wanted pay back and they got it in the rematch at Hilton, winning 12-6. “Both our Natal Schools Players, James Wilson (scrum half) and Victor Anderson (full back), got injured in the first 15 minutes and had to leave the field,” Bruce recalled. “The late tackle on Victor was so late that the video cameras had moved on and didn’t pick it up. James got a finger in his eye. I remember it being an ill-tempered match. I think the ref lost control to some extent. Quite a lot was said about the match for some time.”

In 1986, the first Hilton/Michaelhouse was played in front of television cameras and a massive crowd at Hilton. Bruce recalled: “As the Michaelhouse 1st XV got off the bus I was called to one side and interviewed on TV. My interview was never screened, only [Hilton captain] Dallas Harris’ interview was aired, much to the amusement of my mates and family. I don’t think I spoke clearly enough and/or maybe mumbled too much?

“Anyway, we did the business on the day, winning 9-7. Rowan Varner, the Hilton eighth-man (and SA Schools’ fast bowler) missed a penalty in the last seconds of the match, just skimming the left upright.

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The second match at Michaelhouse was a particularly memorable clash because of a stunning fightback from the home side. They were 0-14 down at the break (remembering that tries were worth four points at that time) and Hilton had crossed for three tries.

“I gave the team a serious bollocking at half time and to their credit we bounced back, winning 19-17. I think there were plenty Hilton parents and Hilton supporters that struggled to put the corks back into their champagne bottles as the final whistle sounded!” Bruce said. “Mike Jeffery scored two magnificent tries within minutes of each other.”

Sadly, Mike lost his life shortly afterwards in a car crash while travelling to Johannesburg.

RESULTS

Michaelhouse 36-3 Sandringham
Michaelhouse 16-4 Richards Bay
Michaelhouse 37-9 John Ross College
Michaelhouse vs Kearsney College – cancelled
Michaelhouse 29-15 Linpark
Michaelhouse 52-32 Old Crocks
Michaelhouse 22-9 Estcourt
Michaelhouse 18-30 Old Boys
Michaelhouse 40-0 Weston
Michaelhouse 6-40 Maritzburg College
Michaelhouse 10-12 DHS
Michaelhouse 15-0 Voortrekker
Michaelhouse 9-7 Hilton College
Michaelhouse 29-3 Alexandra
Michaelhouse 22-4 Saint John’s College
Michaelhouse 30-3 Saint Stithians College
Michaelhouse 13-18 Bishops
Michaelhouse 18-15 Glenwood
Michaelhouse 16-29 Westville Boys’ High
Michaelhouse 19-17 Hilton College

Played 19, won 14, lost 5
Points for: 437, points against: 250

Overseas Tour

At the end of November, Michaelhouse toured abroad for the first time. With final exams being written at the time, the side was afforded only seven Sundays of practice before their departure. It was a challenge, especially since the South African season had ended some months earlier.

Due to the sporting isolation of South Africa at the time, the team travelled in civvies.

The 1986 Michaelhouse 1st rugby team overseas touring party. Bruce Herbert is front and centre.

They played two matches, beating the Welsh side Pontarddulais 8-6 and then Sherbourne School of Dorset, one of England’s top school teams at that time, which included two England under-19 players in their ranks, 12-8.

But then the Michaelhouse team arrived back at their hotel to discover that the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) had overruled the Welsh Youth Rugby Union (WYRU) and declared in the press that the tour unacceptable.

The WYRU encouraged ‘House to continue with their tour but, Bruce remarked: “Effectively, we now became a team on the run.”

On 7 December, the match against Haverford West went ahead, but it was undone by the failure of the referee to arrive. A local coach took over the whistle and refereed in his Wellington boots! His blowing left a lot to be desired.

“No matter what we did, we were penalised out of the game and lost 6-8,” Bruce said. That match was followed by “a strange affair”, a 35 minute practice game against Monmouth, a local independent school, which ended with Michaelhouse 8-5 to the good.

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Next up was a visit to Sophia Gardens for an outing against a Cardiff Invitation XV on 14 December. A strong showing from Michaelhouse produced a good 22-8 victory, which was followed by a splendid function arranged by the hosts.

The next day, though, matters took a turn for the worse. BBC TV arrived at their hotel and asked to speak with the team. They had been advised not to talk to the media because no matter what they said their words would be turned against them. That evening they were on the 18:00 news.

“We became aware of a little red car tailing us when we were travelling in our two minibuses,” Bruce remembered. “Once or twice we were able to give the driver the slip. On one occasion we forced him onto an off ramp that we weren’t taking. As it sped past in its attempt to find an on-ramp, the driver received a wave and a cheer from all of us on the bus. We did not in any way feel threatened as this surveillance was proving to be a nuisance only.”

Questionable refereeing blighted Michaelhouse’s sixth match against a Monmouth Invitation XV, which saw ‘House beaten 12-4; the man who arranged the game also refereed it and had his son playing in the Invitation side.

Eight of the side then headed to Seefeld in Austria for two weeks of skiing, while the rest of the touring party flew back to South Africa from Heathrow.

Bruce Herbert concluded: “In summary, and I quote from Gordon Paterson’s Book, there is Genius in Passion, ‘While we had achieved a number of excellent results, we had not performed consistently to the full potential of the team during the first part of the season. To my mind the hepatitis had been a major factor that caused an early season glitch in our progress. Again, this is typical of life itself and the true test is the capacity to come back when you have been knocked down. I believe that they were revealing the skill, fitness, tenacity and sportsmanship that we wished to see as the example set by the first fifteen.'”

 

Having recently mentioned Jem Nel in a story on the brilliant 1987 Natal Schools’ cricket team on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KZN10com/), KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan decided to also take a look at the Kearsney College 1st XV, captained by Jem, which that same year produced a season for the ages.

In recent times, Kearsney College has produced some exciting and very successful teams. They have also produced standout players; off the top of my head, internationals’ Brad Barritt, Matt Stevens, and the Du Preez brothers, Robert, Jean-Luc and Daniel, come to mind.

But a team that holds a special place in the heart of many in the Kearsney community is the 1st XV of 1987, a side renowned for an attractive and creative 15-man approach to the game.

They played 22 matches, won 18 of them, drew two others and lost to only one other school side, Maritzburg College, which had SA Schools’ flyhalf Udo Goedeke pulling the strings behind a powerhouse pack.

Their only other defeat was by just two points to an Old Crocks team featuring many former Natal players, 26-28. Sadly the Old Crocks no longer exist. Back in the day, they took on many of the top Natal schools and those matches were invariably superb skillful spectacles.

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A year earlier, before the great season of 1987, much was expected of the Kearsney 1st XV of 1986, but the side failed to live up to its potential. In 1987, expectations had been tempered by the slightly disappointing results of the previous year. Jem Nel, then in his third year in the 1st team, said in a recent chat: “I don’t think we were expected to do as well as we did. There was a bit of hype around ’86. When we started in ’87, there was no hype. There were a few guys coming back.”

While Kearsney started out their season with a bang, it ended with a huge loss when Natal Schools’ flanker Mitchell Reed broke an ankle in the last minute of a 34-3 thrashing of Michaelhouse. “I think he was the best schoolboy player I ever played with,” Jem reckoned.

Like Reed, he also earned Natal Schools’ colours. Unfortunately that came only after the Craven Week.

He recalled: “Mike Falkson, my good mate from Westville, got chosen ahead of me. But there was an injury, so I got called up at the last minute.” Mitch Reed and Jem Nel were the only two from Kearsney to make the Natal Schools’ team that year, which is testament to the superb teamwork of the side.

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Jem fondly remembers that season-opening win over Michaelhouse: “We hammered them. In my whole school career, that gave me the most satisfaction. That was the best rugby game we ever played. It was our first game of the season at Kearsney. It was brilliant to play, surrounded by the huge trees. It was fantastic.”

And there was always a little extra in it for Jem whenever Kearsney took on Michaelhouse: “You might remember, I didn’t get into Michaelhouse. I was going to go from Clifton [Nottingham Road] to Michaelhouse and I failed the entrance exam,” he laughed.

“I played sport against Michaelhouse for five years in cricket and rugby and I never lost to them, which was quite satisfying.”

Having mentioned Clifton, there was a remarkable occurrence in 1987, which Jem pointed out, and it’s something that one wonders whether or not it has happened before or since. He explained: “In 1987, the captain of Hilton was Rory Dyer and the captain of Michaelhouse was Bruce Herbert. I was captain of Kearsney. All three of us were from Clifton.” (Bruce has since pointed out that he was, in fact, captain of Michaelhouse in 1986. I attended Clifton at the same time as those guys and was there from 1978 to 1983. When I started there were 120 boys in the school and when I finished there were 150, so an incredible achievement from a very small school, nonetheless).

The author of this story, Brad Morgan (front left), next to Jem Nel (second from left), with 1987 Hilton College captain Rory Dyer to the right of teacher John Farren. Craig Hanbury-King, who played in the Kearsney 1st XV of 1987, is featured second from left in the middle row. Bruce Herbert, the 1986 Michaelhouse captain, is third from the left in the third row.

The two draws – 13-13 against a Westville team that included SA Schools’ player Errol Stewart and 6-6 against Hilton – were very different games, Jem shared.

“We played Westville at Westville on Bowden’s. I think we were a better team than them, but they gave us a hard time. I think it was a lucky draw for us. We scored a try and I think there were about 13 bodies under the ball!

“The other draw was against Hilton, where we played poorly. All they did all day was kick the ball on our fullback and wing. They kicked up-and-unders all day and it was a terrible game. That wasn’t a great draw, but I think the Westville draw was a great draw, because I don’t think we deserved it,” he said candidly.

Back then, Kearsney had only about 530 pupils, but they defeated all the big government schools, apart from Maritzburg College and Westville. There were some tight games among them. They won 15-7 against DHS and 9-8 against Glenwood.

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A tour to Johannesburg included two big wins – 34-0 against Highlands North and 56-3 against Parktown, but King David (Linksfield) pushed Kearsney all the way, with the boys from Botha’s Hill pulling out a narrow 3-0 victory.

The 1987 team was coached by Fred Cocks, who served the school with distinction for 39 years. “Freddie was probably about seven years into the [1st XV] job by the time he got to ’87,” Jem said.

“He and his brother went to Westville Boys’ High. He was a brilliant coach. He was a short man, about five-foot, six, and he had this big voice. He was a fantastic motivator and he knew a lot about the game.”

“I remember clearly he called a Kearsney Old Boy, Wally Watt, who was a Natal flanker, to come and help us with one or two scrumming sessions. He was a fantastic man and he is still around.”

There was only one match in which Kearsney were clearly beaten up front and that was in the big showdown with Maritzburg College. “It was played at Kearsney and there must have been 15 000 to 20 000 people there that day, because they were the only two teams that were unbeaten in the season, and it was quite late in the season,” Jem recalled.

“The score was 20-10. I think we turned at 10-10 at halftime, and then we got pummelled by their forwards in the second half. Their forward pack just destroyed us. I think we did well to be in the game at halftime. They killed us up front.” Of course, back in those days, there was no limit on how far one team was allowed to push another at scrum time in schoolboy rugby, so it was a far bigger disadvantage than it would be nowadays.

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“The ’87 side was a fantastic team. I say without a shadow of a doubt, we had the best loose trio. We had Mitchell Reed, who we lost after the first game,” Jem continued. “Then we had Chris van Noordwyk [who went on to play SA Schools cricket in 1989). He filled in there. And we had a farmer from the north coast called Craig Hanbury-King. He was brilliant. He was small and an excellent fetcher.

“Our Head Boy Graeme Thompson was at lock. He was a big guy and we had another water-polo player at lock, Steve Garreau. We had a decent pack up until the time we met College and we were annihilated.”

The ’87 team also included Nkululeko Skweyiya, better known as “Squeegee”, who had burst onto the scene in 1986. That year, playing on the wing, he scored 22 tries and represented Natal Schools.

“He came from the Eastern Cape and he was a stalwart. He had a side-step and speed that nobody in Natal had,” Jem said. “I think in ’87, he sort of got worked out. We moved him closer to the ball, so he ended up playing most of the time at centre. To our advantage, everyone was focused on him and we had other good players.” The team benefitted, but Squeegee didn’t have as good a year as in ’86 and missed out on Natal Schools’ selection.

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Mitch Reed, Jem Nel and Nkuleleko Skweyiya were awarded their honours, while Greg James, Pierre du Toit, Kenneth Everett, Stephen Garreau, Craig Hanbury-King, Stuart Hulley, John Leach, Craig Symons Graeme Thompson and Ross Wood received their colours.

Fred Cocks’ 1st team report in the Kearsney magazine noted of Jem Nel: “The success of the side can largely be attributed to his exceptional captaincy. His ability to motivate his fellow players was indeed of the highest order of leadership. His skilful and creative play saw him narrowly miss selection for the Natal Schools Craven Week team, but deservedly gained him a cap in Pretoria.

“In addition, he was one of three players who scored 11 tries*, the most by an individual. Congratulations on a great season.”

*(The others were scrum-half Pierre du Toit and Craig Symons. Mitch Reed dotted down seven times in only seven matches.)

Reed was clearly an extraordinary talent, as described by Fred Cocks in his report: “One of the best rugby players seen at Kearsney for many years. His strength, skill and mental attitude to the game is exceptional.”

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Rugby is one of the great team games, especially when it comes to team spirit and off the field relationships, and to this day Jem still keeps in touch with eight or nine of the 1st XV of 1987: “We’ve got a WhatsApp group, so we’re in contact regularly, especially over lockdown now,” he reckoned.

He lives close to Kearsney and his son, Cameron, completed grade 12 at the school in 2019. Even though the ties are not as close as they once were when Cam was in school, Jem still maintains close contact with Kearsney.

“I watch a lot of sport,” he concluded. “When there’s cricket or rugby on, I love it. If I have nothing on, I go and watch. It’s close and close to my heart. We’ve had good times at Kearsney. I think the emotion of winning is gone, but it’s good to go and watch schoolboy sport.”

RESULTS

Easter Tour of East Griqualand, Natal Midlands

Kearsney 40-0 Port Shepstone
Kearsney 33-0 Ixopo
Kearsney 50-6 Escourt

July Tour to Johannesburg

Kearsney 34-0 Highlands North
Kearsney 56-3 Parktown
Kearsney 3-0 King David (Linksfield)

Natal Fixtures

Kearsney 34-3 Michaelhouse
Kearsney 15-7 DHS
Kearsney 24-3 Pinetown
Kearsney 6-6 Hilton
Kearsney 27-6 Beachwood
Kearsney 26-28 Old Crocks
Kearsney 9-8 Glenwood
Kearsney 10-20 Maritzburg College
Kearsney 31-9 Port Natal
Kearsney 13-13 Westville
Kearsney 25-9 Kingswood
Kearsney 40-0 Saint Charles
Kearsney 20-7 Alexandra
Kearsney 31-18 Old Boys

Played 22, won 18, lost two, drew two
Points for: 554, points against: 155

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2019: Just four points separated Kearsney and DHS

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2019: Kearsney Festival day three

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The Glenwood and Hilton College 1st hockey teams engaged in an entertaining clash in very hot conditions on the Three Schools’ Trust Turf in Durban on Saturday, reports KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.

(Due to a lack of numbers to go with the players’ names from one side and numbers that did not align with the players from the other on the team sheets, I am unable to identify the players by name, which is unfortunate.)

The sides started out rather cautiously, with both employing a half-court press. Hilton, though, sent their attackers a little higher and wider up the field, which allowed them to stretch the Glenwood defenders out enough to create slightly more space. This also allowed them to enjoy the majority of the possession in the first half.

Hockey 2019: Hilton vs Michaelhouse derby

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Hockey 2019: Clifton vs Hilton match report

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Hockey 2019: Hilton vs Westville match report

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Midfield was a battleground, with both sides doing a good job of closing down the receivers in that area of the field. Both coaches would surely have liked to see a quicker transition of the ball when it reached the middle of the park, but Hilton did manage to muster some opportunities while keeping Glenwood pinned in their half.

In the early going, matters were very tight in the midfield, with both sides putting the other’s ball-carriers under heavy pressure. (All photos: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

It took a while, but Hilton, on the balance of play, took a deserved lead, thanks to a swift counter after what until that point was a rare Glenwood attack. They exited from their 16 quickly and let the ball go to the right wing, who, given plenty of open field in which to attack, ran hard at the scrambling Glenwood defence.

Cleverly, as he cut in near the circle, instead of trying to dribble the covering defender, he simply flipped the ball past him, pinned his ears back and chased it. Another Glenwood defender was flying across towards the near-side post, but the Hilton man got there first, diving to knock a square ball across to the striker, who managed to get stick to ball a fraction of a second before the Glenwood ‘keeper, who had laid out to try to reach it.

The ball flew high and sweetly into the back of the net and Hilton were in the lead.

Hilton College score the opening goal as their striker knocks the ball past a despairing dive from the Glenwood goalkeeper. 

While it was mostly about Hilton in the opening stanza, Glenwood showed flashes up front on the counter-attack, causing a problem or two for the Hilton defence, which was, for the most part, solid.

The match opened up after the break. Interestingly, Hilton had changed their defensive approach and were pressuring Glenwood higher up the field, which meant the game was no longer as compact as it had been and thus there was more space to work in.

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It was similar, though, in the fact that Hilton were enjoying the majority of the ball possession.

But Glenwood then made good use of the more open play. They launched a quick counter down the left wing after turning over possession and were duly rewarded when they found a foot in the Hilton circle.

The home team’s industry at last paid off when they scored off of a drag flick that had some serious heat behind it, making the score 1-1.

Glenwood showed no shortage of skill in the midfield, but a well-organised Hilton team, for the most part, kept them at bay.

They barely had time to celebrate that goal, however, as Hilton hit back quickly. They attacked down the right flank, this time carrying the ball along the baseline, which drew the goalkeeper to cover his post. When the ball was slipped back, the goalie was beaten and the Hilton striker had a tap-in for the second goal of the game.

Goal number two for Hilton was a simple tap-in after a sharp attack down the Glenwood baseline opened up the chance for the striker to grab a brace.

The third goal, which truly broke the contest open, came from a penalty corner awarded to Hilton.

At previous penalty corners, they had come close to adding to their tally off of a couple of variations, but all it took in the end was a straight shot. Rob Haynes let rip and the Glenwood goalie was unable to get his gloves together in time, just to his right, to stop the ball from crossing the line.

Glenwood threw themselves onto the attack as time wound down, asking questions of the Hilton backline, but the boys from the Midlands had the answers they needed and came away with a hard-fought 3-1 win.

The history of sport at Clifton College is remarkable, especially when one considers that the school is only 18 years of age. Most of its sport is played at an elite level, like cricket, waterpolo, tennis and hockey. But basketball? With their performances at the prestigious Saint John’s Basketball Festival this past weekend, Clifton’s basketball players proved they can, no doubt, compete at an elite level, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.

The team, led by their inspirational captain Jacques Mahanga, put together a string of eye-catching performances in the toughest pool of the event. They opened with a 32-29 victory over Saint Alban’s College, an established power in the game, showing character to score a late equaliser to force overtime before earning a sweet victory in the extra period.

Clifton’s pool, the toughest of the lot, included the hosts, Saint John’s College. (Photo: Saint John’s basketball, https://www.stjohnscollege.co.za/basketball/)

They downed a much-improved Enjabulweni School 25-13 in their second outing and followed that up with a 28-23 win over Cape Town’s Wynberg Boys High, a team that hadn’t encountered before.

What made Clifton’s pool the toughest of all, though, was their next two opponents, Saint John’s College and Michaelhouse, the sides who ended up battling it out in the final for the title.

In a very physical contest, they went down 24-36 to Saint John’s before coming out on the wrong side of a very tightly-contested game against the eventual champions, Michaelhouse, by a slim 35-37 margin.

That final outing against a side that won the Stayers Tournament at Kearsney College and now the Saint John’s title, was a great advertisement for the game, said Master in Charge of Basketball at Clifton, Peter Farquharson.

Clifton defeated Wynberg Boys High, an unfamiliar foe, at the Saint John’s Basketball Tournament. (Photo: Saint John’s Basketball https://www.stjohnscollege.co.za/basketball/)

“What I really liked about that game was it was a game played in a beautiful spirit. The boys all know each other, they’ve played against each other, they’re friends with each other and on the court it was a great game of basketball.”

“The concept of mutual respect in a game like basketball is definitely there. The Clifton and Michaelhouse boys have also played in teams together, so those relationships are established. While it was competitive, it was played in the right spirit.”

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As for the result, Clifton’s captain Jacques Mahanga wasn’t surprised that he and his team-mates had pushed a team that is arguably the best in the country all the way.

“We left our hearts on the court. We fought very hard. We weren’t shocked. We were all in the right head space. We all wanted to win, we wanted to beat Michaelhouse. We’ve had enough of Michaelhouse,” he laughed. “We saw an opportunity to beat them, but we were a little unlucky to go down by two.”

Clifton even had two opportunities to win the clash with buzzer beaters, but those shots didn’t fall. Nonetheless, the game showed Clifton belongs among the elite, and their other performances in the pool games backed that up.

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With only five league fixtures taking place outside of tournaments during the first term, the Saint John’s Tournament was an opportunity to grow for the Durban school and, said their skipper, he believes they did.

“We certainly grew from the first game to the last. Funnily enough, in our first game against Saint Alban’s, we wouldn’t have won the game if one of our juniors did not score the last basket to send the game into overtime. The juniors helped us win. It was an opportunity for the seniors to praise the juniors for their role in the team.”

He added: “We didn’t have to tell other teams how good we have become. Our performances spoke for us. We performed better than we had against other KZN schools earlier in the season. Kearsney, for example, beat us in the season. They have always finished higher than us, but they didn’t make it past the group stages.”

Photographed outside Founder’s House at Clifton College, first team basketball captain Jacques Mahanga and Master in Charge of Basketball Peter Farquharson (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

Mahanga, who has KZN under-19 colours in the sport, is the heart and soul of the Clifton basketball team, Peter Farquharson said: “He’s very humble. In any game, he is, by far, our top points’ scorer. But he has certainly worked hard on playing a team structure and adding to the strengths of our team. Teams change from year to year, and we have had to adapt things at times, but he has definitely been a strong team player.

“Jacques works hard, he trains hard, and he is disciplined. He has been a good leader. He’s worked closely with some of the juniors, which is really good to see.”

Mahanga’s leadership is plain to see in the manner in which he carries himself. He is confident, but respectful, open, honest, and a smile comes easily to his face.

He plays either point guard or shooting guard and his NBA heroes reflect the qualities he admires and strives to emulate: Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, the best shooter in the game; the recently-deceased Kobe Bryant, known for his fighter’s mentality; and Le Bron James, the do-everything Los Angeles Lakers superstar who, like Jacques, rose from humble beginnings, which the Clifton skipper likens to his own story.

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He attended Addington Primary School, not a traditional feeder school for Clifton, but Jacques was the recipient of the Gail Teunissen Legacy Scholarship, given annually to a boy from Addington, who is the best all-round learner.

“I was lucky to get that,” he said. “I was competing with three other candidates and they were all very good.”

When he arrived at Clifton in grade eight, he had a slight edge over many of the other boys in that he had started playing basketball at Addington. It wasn’t so much about the sport as it was about friendship, he explained at Founders House on the Clifton campus on Tuesday.

“What really pushed me to play basketball was the fact that I saw all my friends playing basketball. We all played soccer and then they left to play basketball and I was the only one left playing soccer, so I decided to move to basketball too.”

Disarmingly candid, he described himself as being “very cocky” when he moved to Clifton. He wanted to play first team basketball in grade eight and by the fourth term he had achieved that goal.

This past season, Jacques was the senior player in the team, along with only four other matric boys, and that meant he played the role of mentor to some of the younger boys, in a reversal of the roles from when he first represented the Clifton first team.

Clifton’s 28-23 victory against Wynberg Boys High gave them three wins on the trot in the Saint John’s Basketball Tournament pool stage. (Photo: Saint John’s Basketball https://www.stjohnscollege.co.za/basketball/)

When basketball was introduced at the school there was only one team per age group and games were played in the school hall. As its popularity began to grow two external courts were added. Recently three brand new courts were put up at the Riverside Sports Club, where so much of the school’s sport is played, bringing to five the number of courts it boasts and reflecting the growing popularity of the sport. That growth is happening in other schools, too, said Peter Farquharson.

Farquharson, who has been in charge of basketball at the school “for six or seven years”, said it has been an interesting journey thus far to grow the standard of play at Clifton.

He explained: “There are two things that have held Clifton basketball back. One is the size of the pool that we draw players from. The second thing is overcoming the perception that basketball is for those people who can’t play cricket, swim, or play waterpolo. I think we’re getting past that now.”

Clifton’s success in the Saint John’s Tournament was far from an overnight achievement, he added: “This year has been the culmination of a number of years of work. We’ve had nice stable structures in place in terms of coaching. It’s difficult to find coaches, because there are very few teachers who are coaches. You have to look externally for coaches. We’ve had a relatively stable structure and there are a couple of other things.

The team that performed so well in the Saint John’s Basketball Tournament before their departure for Johannesburg (Photo: Peter Farquharson)

“We’ve gone from one team per age group to four. From attending one tournament per year, we now attend five altogether. The under-14s go to Saint Andrew’s College, the under-16s were at Michaelhouse and Saint Stithian’s, the open team was at Saint John’s, and at the end of the year we’ll send the Stayers to Kearsney.”

The willingness to travel to play top teams in almost any sport anywhere in the country has been one of the prime drivers of sporting success at Clifton, helping the school to ascend at a rapid rate unlike anything seen from other schools of a comparable age.

Something else that has been of benefit to basketball at the school was the formation of Cobweb, an old boys/school boys club, which has entered a team in the Ethekweni Basketball League for the past two years. “A couple of the boys, like Jacques, play in that league. That means they’re getting exposed to the sport throughout the year. They’re playing at a tough level against men’s teams,” Farquharson said.

Mahanga admitted, though, that not all his goals had been achieved: “Last year, in the prefect’s application form, they asked everyone their goals for 2020 and my goal was to help make Clifton a top 10 team in South Africa. The only way to do that is by winning games.

“Unfortunately, this season we lost a lot of league games. In the Kearsney tournament, we came 10th, and in the Saint John’s tournament our goal was to make it to the quarter-finals. We were unfortunate to lose by three points against Michael Mount. They won the Saint John’s tournament two years ago.”

The point, though, is if you don’t attain your goal, you can still enjoy success.

“We played hard. We had the toughest pool. The two games we lost were to the finalists. We still made it out of the pool and we were unlucky not to make it into the quarters. I am sure that every coach out there is aware that Clifton basketball is rising,” Mahanga reckoned.

Like so many things at Clifton, where the idea of family is preached and lived, success comes from a holistic approach to all things. Peter Farquharson concluded: “There is an incredibly committed staff. The parental support is behind every endeavour at the school. Whether it’s the Chamber Choir or basketball, parental support is crucial, and it is there.”

Michaelhouse, Kearsney and Saint Charles remain steady powers at the top of KwaZulu-Natal schools’ basketball. Not long ago, DHS was the best in the country. Hilton College is strong, Maritzburg College is strong, Northwood is on the up, and Clifton now appears to have taken a seat at that table. The trick will be to sustain that success, but given their past record in other sports, why would one bet against them?