Schoolboy rugby in Johannesburg has always been one of my favourite spectator experiences.
The crisp Highveld mornings are defrosted by a cup of hot coffee and later on a bacon and egg roll or a juicy rib burger, and as the day warms up, so too does the atmosphere. Team after team run on with passion while their nervous parents watch on and pray silently into the clouds of the steaming beverages – not so much for a win, but at least an injury free game. The spectators of all ages and in various states of attire start to gravitate towards the main event, and it seems as though the younger they are, the less they wear. Young girls walk in gaggles of giggles blissfully unaware of the event, but completely focused on the players, while their Fathers become instant refereeing experts on the sides of the main field.
It’s just as well that the person in charge has a whistle, else he wouldn’t get a word in edgewise, let alone into a wheeled scrum.
The war cries begin and the cheerleaders whip the air in a passionate plea for voluminous voices. The game begins. It is played. It ends.
There are handshakes and hugs afterwards – even if the odd handbag is thrown.
Since my own son has just started at this school, and has enjoyed his first season of College rugby, I have been a keen observer of the spirit and energy of the various teams, and even from the back row of rib burger braaing, and I burned a few on Burger while watching, I have been held captivated by one team in particular. In a way, I wish it was some team less clichéd than the First XV. But it wasn’t.
I watched infinitely talented teams lose more games because of the mistakes made from their mouths than their muscles, and I saw some teams win games with half their first picks in the sick bay. Grueling game after magical match, however, I watched as one team took heed of their supporter’s chant as another kick soared through the uprights from their mercurial fly half:
And as they believed, so too did the players, and so too did the crowd.
There were not many games that ‘The Blues’ played where they started comfortably in the lead. Most games I remember were an inspired come back, and although this was no unbeaten season, something far more valuable was at play here.
Occasionally beaten but never bowed.
There was a courage in this team and a grit which was admirable. They played the sort of rugby one would be happy to pay money for to watch, and they played for each other. I don’t remember any front row opposition being smaller in stature, and not once did our hooker pack down against a lighter counterpart. But not once was their heart any bigger than his.
A small blanket could have covered our entire forward pack as they moved into a counter shove at the breakdown, line-outs were stolen not just through height, but through the power and timing of the lift, and when the only regular Grade 11 in the pack has a work rate which is exhausting just to watch, something special happens.
Not once did our scrumhalf fail to get up again after being manhandled by men twice his size, and when the back line started to move, it was both mesmerizing and magical. From deep inside our own 22 yard line there was a hunger to run and to run hard, and there has been a season full of electrifying moments and memories. When substitutes were required, they seemed to wear the same pride with the newly donned jersey. Crunching tackles (which drew almost more admiration from an adoring audience of adolescents) were made with every available sinew of strength and much slower paced wingers found a way over both the advantage line and the try line.
In a world short of belief, you young men seemed to have it in abundance, and although a great rugby season is not something which will earn accolades on a CV, the ingredients of a great season are not too different to those which will stand you all in good stead for the rest of your lives.
Respect. Passion. Pride. Determination. Courage. Care.
Although you have been well led, you have also led yourselves and while you outplayed many teams this year, mostly you out-believed them.
I remain a proud Old Boy of one of those schools, but Thank You all for making me a very proud parent of this one.
- A Proudly St John's College Parent
This was was anonymously sent to the College after the last First XV game of the 2019 Winter Sports season hosted at St Stithians College.