East Coast kings College Rovers had a fantastic year in 2006, winning all but one major tournament they competed in. Only one team stood in the way of a perfect Rovers season and, unfortunately, that particular team cost them the national title.
Beating the men from Potchefstroom proved one challenge too many, as Pukke ran out deserved 33-21 winners in the final of the National Club Championship in Stellenbosch. This was the first time the Durban-based side had reached a national final in their illustrious 117-year history. They were dominated in the tight exchanges by their Pukke counterparts, which prevented them from establishing any sort of momentum, although they were able to run in three tries through Guy Ranger, Guthrie Hall and Wesley Bodmer.
Up to this point, Rovers had enjoyed a solid tournament, the highlight being a clinical performance in their 39-13 win over Welkom Rovers in the semi-finals. They took their opportunities in the first half, with winger Ryan Hartslief scoring a brace, and the defence throughout was exemplary. The back row was also prominent at the breakdown and ensured Welkom Rovers were limited to slow ball on attack.
It was a shame Rovers could not repeat this effort against Pukke in the final, but few people in Durban would dispute they did their province proud in Stellenbosch. As far as their recent triumphs are concerned, the First XV completed the double in the KwaZulu-Natal Premier Division last year. Rovers were awarded the Moore Cup for topping the league as well as the Murray Cup for winning the knockout competition. This success trickled down to the lower leagues, with the Second XV, womenâ€™s team and both U20 sides winning their respective divisions. It seems that there is no shortage of talent down on the Berea, and recent results confirm the club as a forerunner in the region in recent times.
Twenty-two Springboks have either been produced by or later represented Rovers over the years. The lengthy list includes Cecil Moss, Alf Walker, Harry Newton-Walker, Bill Zeller, Michael â€˜Muschâ€™ Antelme, Paul Johnson, Jack Gage, Peter Swanson, Guy Kebble, James Small, Pieter Muller, Robbie Kempson, Joel Stransky, Jeremy Thomson, Toks van der Linde, Gary Teichmann, Chris Rossouw, Gaffie du Toit, Lukas von Biljon, Dave von Hoesslin, AJ Venter, Butch James and Stefan Terblanche. Ian McIntosh and Moss are two Rovers men who have coached the Springboks.
During their prolific run in 2006, many of the younger players were rewarded with a call-up to the Sharks in the Super 14 and Currie Cup. Craig Burden, Keegan Daniel, Ryan Kankowski, JC Strauss and Andrew Binikos all had an opportunity in the black and white last year, while other regulars in the provincial set up such as Sandile Nxumalo and Grant Rees are also valued members of this club.
Rovers arenâ€™t short on depth either, as they currently have 12 players in the KwaZulu-Natal Amateur team, three in the U21 squad and 10 in the U19 squad. Kankowski is one of the clubâ€™s biggest success stories at the moment, having represented SA U21 at the World Championship in France and the national Sevens side. To everybodyâ€™s surprise, the gifted youngster kept the likes of
Bob Skinstad out of the Sharksâ€™ starting line-up early in the Super 14. Skinstad may be easing into his comeback, but the Sharks still have plenty of quality loose forwards, and it says much for Kankowskiâ€™s talent that he is entrusted with such a pivotal role at
the back of the scrum.
Philip Smit will coach Rovers again this season, and the former Natal and Bok lock is undoubtedly aiming to add that elusive national trophy to the cluttered Rovers cabinet. Pre-season preparations are well under way, with both the senior side and the U20s back from a tour to East London where they played matches against Cambridge and Old Selbornians.
With plenty of depth and a strong winning culture, Rovers are set to build on their impressive form of 2006. The numbers coming through at the junior levels compensate for those moving on to greater things, and it is no wonder Sharks rugby is in such a healthy state when its top clubs are thriving in such a manner.