South African rugby fans, emaciated and weak from an enforced rugby diet of reruns and more recently overseas matches, were fed their first energy-filled serving of South African rugby last Saturday with the Super-Saturday double-header at Loftus Versveld.
Here, Jake White’s Bulls announced themselves as a force this season, while John Dobson’s Stormers withstood a late Lions rally to hang on for victory.
Dessert, in the form of a Green versus Gold clash, kicks off at 5pm on Saturday at Newlands. The teams are an ensemble of 50 of the country’s top players, including Sevens legends.
The group was chosen through a draft-system which whittled the original field of 93 players to the exciting group taking to the hallowed Newlands pitch this week.
With spectators not invited to these events, replaced by an ingenious collection of cut-out images of people seated in the stands, South African rugby appears to be in good health, young talent ceasing the opportunity to impress.
In the meantime, the Currie Cup is scheduled for a start in a little over a week, but the final season of under-21 rugby kicks off on Sunday in Johannesburg. As of next season, the competition will be contested in the under-20 age group.
The SA Rugby under-21 Championship will take place at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg from Sunday October 4, with the finals being contested on the Friday October 30. All matches will be played at the renowned stadium, with the competing teams resident in the region for the duration of their participation.
It is unclear whether the cardboard cut-outs will be allowed in as spectators again.
The Lions, Sharks, Free State, Blue Bulls and Western Province are the five participating teams. Once again Jerome Paarwater heads the coaching panel of the Western Province team, assisted by Nazeem Adams. Paarwater has cleverly introduced some successful club rugby coaches into the mix, involving them as heads of various disciplines.
Southern suburbs icon and standout club coach of the last seven years is False Bay’s Johnno van der Walt, whose focus is counter-attack but assists with handling, skills and general attack.
Van der Walt’s involvement may have started earlier but availability has been an obstacle in terms of other commitments.
He has participated at a level higher than club level, having coached the Western Province Emerging team to victory in the national competition in 2016.
The cancellation of the 2020 club rugby season allowed Van der Walt the time to take up the opportunity of being involved in the provincial set-up and for the last 13 weeks he has thrived on the participation.
“With no club rugby in 2020 I jumped in with both feet to keep current, fresh and most importantly on the field learning and trying to improve”, said Van der Walt.
“We head off to Johannesburg this week after our final preparation week”.
Thirty six players will be making the trip to Gauteng, where they will be resident for the duration of the tournament and Van der Walt will be lapping up the energy and experience of the trip.
Asked if there was much of a difference compared to coaching his club team, he states that there is no difference between the game styles (pace perhaps one), and the age of the players is the obvious difference.
“I am just so happy to be coaching and grateful for the opportunity”, he says citing the invaluable benefit of staying current in coaching matters.
● Western Province face the Blue Bulls in the first of a double-header on Sunday.