Top rugby at College

2011-04-02 00:00

NOW in its fourth annual instalment, the Skonk Nicholson Rugby Festival was the brainchild of Niekie van Blerk, the former Transvaal (now Lions) centre and assistant coach of the Maritzburg College First XV, who in late 2007 was given the go-ahead to plan the inaugural 2008 festival.

It was decided to invite only U14 and U16 teams, given the plethora of First XV festivals — a decision that has most certainly contributed to the festival’s popularity amongst rugby-playing schools throughout South Africa.

A total of 36 teams took part in the first Skonk Nicholson Rugby Festival, which was held in Easter 2008, and since then it has continued each year to host an astonishing number of players and coaches, who are housed in numerous school boarding establishments around town — from College (capacity: 380), to Voortrekker, Merchiston, Alexandra High School and even Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School.

A total of 46 teams attended the 2009 festival, and a record 48 teams in 2010, but, simply for practical and logistical purposes, this number has now been pruned to 38 teams.

One certainly has to feel some sympathy for College’s caterer, Heather Lawson, who each day will be feeding lunch to over 760 boys and 120 officials.

The organisers boast that the festival is “the largest of its kind in South Africa, and one of the largest in the world”.

Over the years, the festival has witnessed sparkling rugby played by the U14 to U16 players from some of the best rugby-playing schools in the land, including the Free State powerhouse Grey College, King Edward VII School (KES), Hilton College, Kearsney, Michaelhouse, PBHS, Jeppe Boys’ High, Westville Boys High School, Hoërskool Ermelo, and, of course, the hosts themselves.

The festival is named in honour of the legendary school-boy rugby coach, the late JM “Skonk” Nicholson, who coached the First XV at Maritzburg College from 1948 to 1982 and sadly passed away on February 27 this year, a mere five weeks before the start of the festival.

The festival is therefore not just a chance to see high-class running rugby, but to allow the College community to again thank and pay homage to a great gentleman, a beloved schoolmaster and one of South Africa’s truly legendary rugby coaches. Indeed, Skonk’s absence from the touchlines this year will leave a void at the festival that will never be filled.

It is hoped that the 2011 festival will not only witness good, hard schoolboy rugby, but that it will also provide some of the country’s lesser-known teams some exposure to rugby as played in the top rank.

The organisers of the festival are fully committed to rugby development, and are pleased to announce that two Midlands Development teams will once again be participating.

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