The giant-killers from Cape Town’s northern suburbs

The giant-killers from Cape Town’s northern suburbs
Milnerton High School lock Dylan Peverett secures the ball for his side in their win over Hugenot High School in Wellington. (Photo: Supplied.)

Three weeks into the schoolboy rugby season, Milnerton High School have already beaten powerhouses Rondebosch and Bishops Diocesan College.

South Africa has its traditional rugby schools — Grey College, Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Affies), Paarl Gimnasium and Paul Roos Gimnasium are names that spring to mind.

But a little-known co-education public school in the northern suburbs of Cape Town has been making waves this season.

giant killers cape town milnerton high school

The masterminds of an impressive start to the schoolboy rugby season for Milnerton High School. From left: Heinrich Martin (head coach) Patrick Petersen (backline coach) Reinardt Ellman (forwards coach). (Photo: Supplied.)

In the opening three rounds of the schoolboy rugby season, Milnerton High School have already downed two of the traditional rugby schools. In round one they snatched victory from the clutches of defeat against traditional southern suburbs powerhouse Rondebosch High School, winning 34-33.

In round three, last weekend, they beat Bishops Diocesan College 31-28 to prove that their first big-team beating was no fluke.

Sandwiched in between was a 17-14 win over Hugenote Hoërskool in Wellington.

This season is Milnerton’s first in the Premier B division after they built enough teams across age groups to enter the division. Their matches against Rondebosch and Bishops were cross-league fixtures as both compete in the Premier A division.

“This has been a lengthy process and it’s hard work,” Heinrich Martin, the director of rugby at Milnerton High School, told Daily Maverick.

giant killers cape town milnerton high school

Milnerton’s openside flanker Brint Davids runs at the Bishops defence in their surprise victory over their southern suburbs rivals at the Piley Rees field. (Photo: Supplied.)

“This is not overnight success, even though people call us the ‘Southern Suburbs Slayers’. It’s actually a process that started a long time ago. We’ve been working hard for the last couple of years to build the rugby programme.”

Building a programme

When Martin started at Milnerton in 2007, the school had only five teams across all age groups and competed in the A1 division, the fifth tier of schoolboy rugby in the Western Cape.

But through determination and smart scouting, the school has beefed up its rugby sides. Double World Cup-winning Springbok centre Damian de Allende matriculated from Milnerton High School in 2009. He is its only Springbok representative and the school’s main rugby field is named after him.

Through scholarships, Martin recruits players from all over the Cape Flats, whom he refers to as “rough diamonds”.

“Areas like Mitchells Plain, Bonteheuwel, Ravensmead, Elsies River — all the way to Atlantis,” he said.

“We identify boys in those areas, then we offer them scholarships. But the scholarships are so they can better their lives, so that after school they can study.

“We push them hard on the academic front as well. Hopefully, rugby can create an opportunity for them to study and they can get a bursary through that.

“The rugby programme is not very big. It’s big enough, but it’s also small enough so that we can care for all our family. 

“Some of the boys come from needy families and you can’t put a boy in a functional school and give him good rugby training … then he goes back home and his family is struggling,” Martin said.

“Where there is a need, we also assist the family with food and support. We don’t have a boarding school so we make use of lift clubs and the MyCiTi [bus service]. Some of our boys travel from 4.30am to be at school at 6am.” 

Retaining possession

In their victories against both Rondebosch and Bishops, Milnerton High were trailing by more than 20 points going into the final quarter before turning on the heat with a late blitz.

“We spend a lot of time in terms of our cardio fitness,” Martin said. “We had two tight losses in our pre-season. But the way we approach our games is that we want to be fitter than everyone we play against.”

Milnerton’s style of play is different from the traditional territory-based game plan, as they opt to keep the ball in hand and build as many phases as possible.

“We play an expansive game plan but when it pays off, it pays off,” Martin said. “We’re not scared to attack from deep where a lot of other schools would kick and kick deep. [Then] they’ll sit back and wait for another kick.

“What we do is starve them of the ball. We keep the ball and move it through the hands. They just don’t get the ball from us.

“When you have patience on attack, eventually something is going to open. That’s normally where we penetrate and go through.”

Milnerton’s next game is against Bellville High School on Saturday, their first challenge against a northern suburbs highflier and their first home match of the season.

They have two more cross-league fixtures this season: against South African College High School (Sacs) and against Stellenberg in Durbanville. DM


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