Gym favourites in Paarl derby

The ability to handle the pressure better may well be the deciding factor in determining Saturday’s match between Paarl Gymnasium and Paarl Boys High.

It’s asking a lot of young men to perform at optimal levels in front of 25 000 spectators at the Faure Street sports field in Paarl even though this is the ultimate highlight in their careers. For the XV that comes out on top, hero worship status and bragging rights for the next year can be savoured but, for the vanquished, pain of defeat lives on for the rest of their lives.

But it’s a wonderful occasion for the town of Paarl to showcase to the world two teams of the very highest order in South African schools rugby. This annual showdown, arguably the finest rivalry in world schoolboy rugby, dates back to 1929, with Gym emerging as 6-3 victors. And over the next 80 years, confrontations between these two arch rivals have almost always produced close winning margins. In fact, before Gym’s record 35-8 win in 2008, the difference in points was a mere 29 – Gym scoring 562 to 533 against and the average score in their favour 7-6.

Both schools have managed to win five in a row – Gym’s sequence was ended last year 12-24.

Gym have been the form team of 2010, their unbeaten run locally, making them firm favourites to come out on top. Snubbed by the Western Province U18 selectors, who saw fit to include just three of their players in the Craven Week team, offers Gym an opportunity to show them up against an opposition that had lost two local games but still had five players selected for provincial duty. Gym coach Christoff Lötter was miffed at the time, more so for his players, who he believed were worthy of selection. Gym’s WP caps are burly outside centre Kobus van Wyk, No 8 Christiaan Smit and hooker Jandre Conradie.

Apart from two losses to Grey College (23-12) and Waterkloof (12-10), Gym have produced outstanding rugby in a year when most thought they would struggle in after last seasons nightmare that included three defeats to their traditional rivals and a loss to Wynberg on home turf. But champion teams hit back with a vengeance and Gym are the undisputed champion XV of the Cape and currently are ranked No 2 in SA.

Paarl Boys High will be no pushovers though. They have lost just three of their 20 matches to date – Grey College (34-12), Bishops (12-11) and Paul Roos (31-17) and are ranked fifth in the country. That famous win over Gym last year to end a five-match losing streak could not have come at a better time.

On Saturday they will boast five players representing WP at Craven Week – Stephan Coetzee (captain, hooker), Nicolaas van Dyk (tighthead, who played for the WP academy team as well), Beyers de Villiers (flank), Gavin Hauptfleisch (flyhalf, who recently signed for the Sharks Academy) and Devon Williams (left wing), and a further six players included in the WP Academy team.

So the scene is set for another rugby classic, and with, like Gym, a few players back for a second crack, Paarl Boys may well feel the pressure is on Gym to win back bragging rights.

Both coaches, although inwardly confident, are not giving too much away in terms of match-day strategy. But it has been refreshing to see both teams employ an open brand of 15-man rugby. Gym have made it a mission to play crowd-pleasing rugby, the 101-0 drubbing of Wynberg Boys High springs to mind. Their rivals, too, have opted for the same approach but have in years gone by lend on their mighty pack for ascendancy, last years victory attains to this.

‘It should be a cracker,’ said Gym coach Lötter. ‘All the preparations have been done, it’s now in the hands of the players. ‘I’m confident we can return to winning ways. This season has been a wonderful one, the players have done themselves and their school proud, the moment to cap a fine season waits.’

Paarl Boys coach Elmo Wolfaardt feels bullish about his charges chances.

‘The pressure will be there, but we have prepared as best we can and the boys are ready to go,’ he said. ‘As long as we keep our discipline and play to our strengths, we should go close. We’re up against a team who want nothing more than to beat us again. So we will just have to see what transpires in the 70 minutes but, win or lose, I will be proud of my boys.’

By Mike de Bruyn