Can you feel it? Midlands club rugby is living the dream

2010-07-28 00:00

SOMETIMES it takes a crisis to right a listing ship.

Forgive me if I go on about this, but the metamorphosis in midlands club rugby still strikes me as a dream.

Having put up with jibes from friends about going to watch another club rugby defeat at Woodburn or Maritzburg Varsity, this season I have seen more victories than in the last five years.

Recently appointed SA women’s hockey coach Giles Bonnet, himself a former fullback in an unbeaten Michaelhouse U15A rugby team back in the early eighties before he was forced to choose sports, said to me last week in East London that the South African psyche is reactionary. We cruise along, going through the motions and blaming everyone but ourselves until the sink or swim phase is reached, and then we fight for survival with the determination that the Americans discovered to their great cost when they went to Vietnam.

Last year, and before, midlands and PMB club rugby was sinking fast, and PMB people started getting honest, this column spouting some of the hot issues. Should we go it as one big PMB rugby club, amalgamating Varsity, Collegians and Waratahs (now the Elephants)? Others, like Tony Day and Reggie Smith of Collegians and Varsity, stood fast, saying their clubs still had a future.

Forward-thinking rugby men like Dave Dixon and Ronnie Kuhn put forward cogent plans for amalgamation — and it probably would have worked — but the idea was stilled by Smith and Day’s steadfastness.

Lo and behold, my friendly detractors can barely believe I watch winning sides now; strong-finishing Collegians having wrapped up KZN First Division South by a country mile following their 13-10 win over nearest challengers South Coast Warriors at Woodburn on Saturday, after grinding front-runners Hillcrest into the dust the week before, and Varsity putting together a fantastic 33-20 win over Zululand Rhinos at Varsity to follow their outplaying third-placed Crusaders of Durban North, who took a liking to doling out 50- to 70-point drubbings when they met the Whites in recent years. Indeed, Varsity, with Harlequins at the campus on Friday at 8 pm and basement dwellers Jaguars the following week, could conceivably end fifth in the KZN Premier Division — a pipedream 10 months ago.

Elephants, too, could finish sixth in the nine-team KZN First Division, while local midlands leagues have seen a titanic battle between the likes of Estcourt Bulls, Noodsberg and Voortrekker Old Boys, the outcome now down to the last match and giving rise to the contention that, given the chance, the trio would beat KZN First Division sides like Wentworth and Kokstad. Midlands Rugby Sub-Union Fourth Division, too, has seen the vets from Collegians and Elephants toe to toe in the title race.

“It’s so exciting I’m thinking of making a comeback,” quipped MRSU president Piet Herbst when caught in the gym yesterday.

The former PMB Police lock praised the clubs and individuals for revitalising in their own back yard over the last six months. He pointed out the commitment at practices — coaches and players are loving the game again, unburdened by failure — and rightfully praised the Midlands Rugby Academy’s Steve Botha for the major influence that institution is having — a good 18 of their products in the Varsity and Collegians starting squads this week.

At every level, from Steve la Marque and friends at midlands referees’ society, the envy of the province, to Ryno Combrink’s coaches’ society, things are happening big time at club level again — and the energy is catching, with next year’s Varsity Shield coming to PMB and the prospect of Collegians playing Premier Division rugby again.

If PMB rugby continues to work as it has, who knows where this exciting journey might end? But everyone has to keep living the dream — as Bonnet is telling his hockey girls — if you dare to dream you dare to fail, but don’t die wondering.

FIXTURES

Friday – Prem Div (8 pm): PMB Var vs Quins; Dbn Coll vs Rovers; Old Boys vs Saders; Zululand vs Jags. Reserves 6.30 pm.

Saturday – First Div (3.30 pm): South Coast vs Ballito, Toti vs P Coll; D Var vs Elephants; Wentworth vs Kokstad. Reserves 2 pm.

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