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Blazers, drones and dry-white wine





It was a perfect Midlands midwinter Saturday, with the temperature climbing into the low 20s. My wife had flown back from her job in Mpumalanga, my daughter was home from school for the weekend and we decided to drive the 10km from the farm for a picnic at one of our favourite local spots.

Only trouble was, there were 10 000 people there.

It was, of course, Michaelhouse against Hilton, and I was being a little economical with the truth. We knew about the game and had been invited by friends whose son is in the second team. It is always the biggest day of rugby annually in our part of the Midlands and every year I can't go because I'm working for SuperSport.

But this year I was off and so I went for the first time since Pat Lambie was in the Michaelhouse side, eight years ago.

Also in that 2009 team were the Cronje twins, Ross and Guy, and Ruan Combrinck. Amazing to think that back then Michaelhouse had never produced a Springbok. Now they have four, three of them from the same team. You'll have to go to the bottom of the article to find out the name of the fourth.

What struck me this time around was the logistical complexity of it all. There is one road in and out of the school and people were queueing far down the R103 to get to the turnoff when we rocked up at 11 o'clock. I learnt later that the queue was equally long at half-past-eight in the morning. And yet there was no trace of angst and people were happy to pay at the gate for the privilege of parking their cars inside.

Play began formally with the Under 14Bs at 08:30 and the 1st XV game closed proceedings with a 1pm commencement. The highlight for me, and I suspect for many, given the presence of no less than four drones, was the 'writing'. Using blazers, shirts and coloured material, the boys of the two schools battled to outdo each other with displays of their school's name.

I am told there is a full dress rehearsal on the day before the big game, and that regular time slots are allocated on weekday afternoons. Even so, the precision of movement and the startling effects, many of which can only really be appreciated in the drone footage, are enormously impressive.

The 'writing' has been around for some time now, but a recent addition to the day is live streamed commentary. Unlike the streaming on the SuperSport website, this game is only open to former pupils. An email is sent out with a code to enter and, hey presto, you can watch from wherever you happen to be in the world. The future has arrived.

On the day Hilton ruled the roost, winning all but three Under-15 fixtures. But the enduring beauty of school sport is that no one really cares. You earn temporary bragging rights and next year everyone starts again from scratch. It's easy to see why so many people come back year after year.

Before I give you the name of the fourth Michaelhouse Springbok, regular readers of this column may remember a piece I wrote about the Durban High School scrumhalf, Sanele Nohamba. I'm delighted to learn that this week the young man from Alice in the Eastern Cape signed a two-year contract with the Sharks. May he grow and prosper.

So Pat Lambie was the first old boy to become a Springbok, Ruan Combrinck the third and this month Ross Cronje became the fourth. The missing name, with six test matches in 2012 was.....Pat Cilliers. After two seasons with Montpellier, Pat is now at Leicester Tigers and, aged just 30, who's to say that his international career is at an end?


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