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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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)
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
Kearsney, Northwood share spoils in cracking season-opener
2019: Just four points separated Kearsney and DHS
2019: Kearsney Festival day three
2019: Kearsney Festival day two
2019: Kearsney Festival day one
Coaches don’t expect perfection in a season opener, but there are other things they hope to see, like character and fight, and by that measure both Northwood coach Grant Bashford and Kearsney coach Nico Breedt will be satisfied with the effort of their charges in a pulsating 24-24 draw on Stott Field at Kearsney on Saturday, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.
Fortunes and momentum ebbed and flowed in the contest and, ultimately, there was nothing to separate the two sides on the scoreboard, not even at half-time when they turned level at 12-12. Both teams notched two tries and a single conversion in each half.
Northwood, after a memorable 20-12 victory over Kearsney at home last year, their first win over their Botha’s Hill opponents since 1996, wanted a good follow-up to that performance, but just three members of the side that claimed a sweet win in 2019 are left in this year’s line-up. That didn’t hinder them at all in the early going, though, as they took charge from the first scrum when they turned up the torque and powered over the Kearsney pack to earn a penalty, much to the delight of the travelling supporters.
The Knights were dominating up front and scrumhalf Prolight Shoba was doing a wonderful job in providing a quality, quick service from the rucks, which helped Northwood build up impressive momentum. They were soon rewarded with the opening try when Onyekachi John-Osunkwo powered his way over in the right corner. Luke Dudley put in a desperate smothering tackle, but momentum carried the Northwood centre across the try-line.
Northwood centre Onyekachi John-Osunkwo scored a first half brace. (All photos: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)
The visitors then more than doubled their lead with a well-worked try, which was, again, rounded off by centre John-Osunkwo. Deep inside the Kearsney half, he profited from running a good line off the shoulder of his flyhalf, Emmanuel Bhiya, to receive a short pass, which pierced the home side’s defensive line and put him in under the posts.
At 0-12 down, it looked as if it might become a long afternoon for Kearsney, but the home team then showed character and resolve to lift their game and put Northwood on the back foot.
Kearsney centre Connor de Bruyn attempts to fight off a tackle from Northwood flyhalf Emmanuel Bhiya.
Kearsney forced a shot at goal from a penalty, but it missed the mark. However, they didn’t have to wait much longer to get on the scoreboard through their centre Dudley, which drew a massive roar from the home side’s supporters.
Four minutes from the break and suddenly Kearsney had drawn level. From a five-metre lineout, they mauled effectively towards the Northwood try-line, splintering the visitors’ defences, before loosehead prop Cameron van Eck crashed over for the five-pointer.
Kearsney forced their way over with a drive from a five-metre lineout to level the scores.
A gutsy, determined stand on their own try-line then stopped Northwood from edging in front once more, just before the half-time whistle.
After the break, Kearsney piled on the pressure and were almost over, but flyhalf Bhiya and towering lock Christopher Viviers combined to hold up the ball-carrier over the line.
The momentum was with the home team, but the pendulum swung when the Knights, who had been under sustained pressure, engineered a thrusting break down the left-wing from a turnover, with fullback Unathi Mayekiso diving over in the corner to put his side ahead once more at 17-12.
Kearsney, again, turned up the heat and their captain Massimo Fierro was brought down only centimetres shy of the line after a powerful thrust. Stopped there, they quickly shifted the ball from left to right to put fullback Trent Coetzee into plenty of space and he sprinted over for a third five-pointer for the men in maroon.
Centre Luke Dudley makes a break in the second half.
Kearsney’s fourth try, when it came, mixed simplicity with individual brilliance. From a set piece, flyhalf Matthew Hind, attacked the line before flipping a short ball to right wing Ayabonga Mngaza, who was flying up on his inside shoulder. Mngaza then did the rest, his mazy run cutting one way then the other, leaving the Northwood defenders grasping at air as he scythed his way through from 40 metres out to score a stunning try underneath the uprights. The simple conversion put Kearsney 24-17 up.
Winger Ayabonga Mngaza proved a handful for the Northwood defence with his pace and evasive running.
With time running out, Northwood surged onto the attack, but Kearsney’s defence was resolute: Northwood bashed the ball up and Kearsney repulsed them with some stiff tackling.
Then, with only three minutes remaining on the clock, fullback Mayekiso received a pass on the Kearsney 22. Pumping his big thighs hard, he brushed aside two tacklers, forcing his way through a half-gap before breaking clear to fly over and dot down under the uprights. A simple conversion levelled the game at 24-24.
Unathi Mayekiso burst through the Kearsney defence to score Northwood’s fourth try.
The home team tried manfully for the winning points, carrying the ball through a number of phases, but Northwood gave little away to keep Kearsney out of scoring range and when the final whistle sounded a draw was probably a fair result.
“If you’re unemotional about it, it was entertaining. It was back and forth and it could have gone either way,” commented 1st XV coach Grant Bashford afterwards.
“From the start we had, we’re disappointed to draw, but being down then coming back to draw, we showed a lot of character. All in all, there are some mixed feelings.”
Kearsney coach Nico Breedt, summed the up the clash as “a typical first game of the season. Both sides would have wanted fewer mistakes. I thought they were better than us in the set phases.
“From a Kearsney point of view, we would like to work on that. They put us under a lot of pressure during the set phases. We couldn’t exit our own half with the kicking game, which was quite poor.”
Referencing Northwood’s hot start, Breedt added: “We’ve got a good record at home and we weren’t panicking at 12-0 down, and I thought at one stage we were going to get some momentum after we made it 12-12. Unfortunately, instead of converting that pressure into more points, we let them back into the game.”
A strong showing from the Northwood forwards ensured quality ball for the Knights’ backline.
The performance of the Northwood pack at scrum time pleased Bashford: “They were under pressure, they couldn’t get off of the base of the scrum. [Eighthman] Massimo Fierro and [centre] Connor de Bruyn were their two big carriers, Fierro off the base and Connor running shorter. They never really got that going today and that was from the pressure that was exerted in the scrum. We did enough in our scrum to unsettle them at the base and deny them the momentum that they were looking for from Fierro and De Bruyn.”
For Breedt, the big plus was the character his charges showed when under pressure: “At times our defense was really strong and I was happy with that, because it is the first time that we have been tested, with this being the first game of the season.”
Of concern for Kearsney will be the health of their captain Massimo Fierro, who was seen walking around after the game with an ice pack on his left shoulder, which was also in a sling. His AC joint will be assessed to determine the extent of his injury.
Kearsney eighthman and captain Massimo Fierro (passing the ball) is an injury concern ahead of their match against Clifton College on 14 March.
Casting an eye over Northwood’s performances throughout the day, coach Grant Bashford expressed satisfaction: “For us, for the day, our under-14 A team won, our under-15 A won, our under-16 A won and our first team has drawn, so it’s a good day out, and it’s not all about the first team, it’s the system that we’re doing at home. I think a draw is the best result we’ve had here in a long time, so we’ll take it.”
1st XV: Kearsney 24-24 Northwood
2nd XV: Kearsney 29-3 Northwood
3rd XV: Kearsney 43-29 Northwood
4th XV: Kearsney 25-5 Northwood
5th XV: Kearsney 33-17 Northwood
U16A: Kearsney 14-19 Northwood
u16B: Kearsney 21-21 Northwood
u16C: Kearsney 17-14 Northwood
u16D: Kearsney 5-47 Northwood
U15A: Kearsney 10-17 Northwood
u15B: Kearsney 10-14 Northwood
u15C: Kearsney 14-10 Northwood
U15D: Kearsney 17-19 Northwood
U14A: Kearsney 5-29 Northwood
u14B: Kearsney 10-49 Northwood
u14C: Kearsney 19-12 Northwood
u14D: Kearsney 14-22 Northwood
2019 Northwood vs Westville match report
2019 Northwood vs Hilton match report
2019 Just four points separated Kearsney and DHS
2019 Standard Bank Kearsney Easter Rugby Festival day three report
2019 Standard Bank Kearsney Easter Rugby Festival day two report
2019 Standard Bank Kearsney Easter Rugby Festival day one report
DHS played host to the annual Durban and District Gala on Tuesday afternoon. The event – featuring DHS, Westville, Northwood, Glenwood, Clifton and Kearsney – consisted of the 4 x 50m relay in all strokes in the under-14, under-15, under-16, under-17 and under-19 age groups and culminated in the 5 x 50m freestyle ladder relay, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.
Contested late in the afternoon, a decently sized crowd took in some good competition in pleasant conditions, with the powerhouse Westville team, predictably, dominating proceedings. A total of 26 events were contested with the Griffins excelling and capturing the honours in 22 of the 26 relays.
While Westville ruled the roost in the Durban and Districts Gala, DHS shone in the under-15 age group, picking up wins in three of the five relays (All photos: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)
They impressed with their depth, not only in the various strokes, but also throughout the various age groups. Westville also swept all relays in the under-14, under-16 and under-17 age groups.
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Clifton picked up a very impressive win in the under-19 freestyle relay, which, obviously, meant their time of 1:40.84 was the fastest recorded in any relay on the day. That was the only race Westville didn’t win in the senior age group.
The competition took place in ideal late afternoon conditions, with a nice crowd in attendance.
DHS were especially strong at under-15 level. In fact, they claimed three wins to Westville’s two, with the hosts giving the crowd plenty to cheer with victories in the backstroke, butterfly and medley relays, while Westville reigned supreme in the freestyle and breaststroke races.
A hallmark of the gala, which was very pleasing to witness, was the friendly nature of the competition. It echoed days gone by when winning was not all that mattered and the appreciation of challenging oneself and others was as important as the result itself.
So, well done to all the swimmers and the coaches (and moms and dads); besides the excellence of the performances, the good-natured racing stood out.
From the first event to the last, there was no doubt that Westville would claim the silverware as champions of the Durban and Districts Gala. DHS headmaster Tony Pinheiro presented the winner’s trophy to Westville captain Ian Brijlal.
1st: Westville 152 points
2nd: Clifton 107 points
3rd: DHS 90 points
4th T: Glenwood 69 points
4th T: Kearsney 69 points
6th: Northwood 57 points
KEARSNEY College first XV and St Stithians of Johannesburg produced a match chock-full of adventurous running studded with moments of individual brilliance and well-worked tries but punctuated with an uncomfortable number of unforced errors.
The touchdowns on The Stott were shared 5 apiece.
Next up for Kearsney is another home game – when they meet Hilton College this Saturday, 2 June 2018 on The Stott.
Kearsney lit up the scoreboard first in the St Stithians match through a penalty goal by the ever-consistent Taine Muirhead (3-0).
The 3-pointer in the 6th set the tone in the next 10 but errors coupled with wrong options kept the Saints within reach.
Kearsney pressure finally turned into a 7-pointer… a move that reflected much work on the training paddock saw fullback Robbie Koenig break the line before forwards/backs contributed to set up winger Gcina Gumede’s flight over the whitewash out left (10-0).
Featured image: Kearsney College fullback Robbie Koenig races away from his St Stithians pursuer during the 36-31 victory on The Stott Saturday.
Photo Tracey van den Aardweg
Momentum shifted… Saints collected a Kearsney outlet-pressure kick to nail a collective 7 points in dazzling fashion out right (10-7).
The hosts recovered fast. From the kick-off, pressure earned a penalty after a dangerous tackle on winger Gumede.
Kearsney opted for a scrum feed. A precision backline move ensued. A marked degree of player-to-player awareness and cohesion – earned through considerable effort at trainings – resulted in the selfsame Gumede touching down on the other side of the park from where Saints had transgressed.
The Muirhead conversion set Kearsney 17-7 at halftime.
The teams changed ends and St Stithians gave evidence that they were far from done. Somewhat against the flow, the visitors capitalised from a spilled ball, making short work of a disorganised defence (17-12).
A Saints touchdown would tip the balance in the visitors’ favour for the first time. It duly happened when Kearsney let themselves down with another soft error and the 7-pointer saw the scoreboard read Kearsney 17 St Stithians 19.
Not for long. A quickly-taken Kearsney penalty and clever punt was followed up by fullback Koenig. As the 15 readied to catch-and-dive for try-time, a Saints tackler committed too early. The consequent penalty try tilted the balance in Kearsney’s favour once again (24-19).
The Kearsney spark blossomed into full-blown flame when, first, lock forward Jordan Morum benefited following structured play off a scrum launch. Then, a quickly-taken Muirhead/Koenig lineout combo stretched Kearsney’s lead to 36-19 with 14 left.
Once again, the Saints signalled they weren’t done. Sustained pressure earned 5 points (36-24).
With the final whistle looming, further mindful attack by the Saints culminated in Kearsney losing a yellow-carded defender.
A converted try confirmed that Saints made maximum of the opportunity.
Final score – Kearsney 36 (17) St Stithians 31 (7)
Kearsney – 5 tries, 4 conversions, 1 penalty
St Stithians – 5 tries, 3 conversions
Kearsney match summation – Positives: ball-in-hand & field-position. Concerns: missed opportunities & at-times poor discipline.
Next up: Kearsney vs Hilton College on The Stott.
Date & kick-off: Saturday, 2 June 2018 at 3pm.
* Kearsney Founders Weekend.