Hilton-Michaelhouse showdown at Meadows
By Murray Staats
In June, one of the oldest and most highly anticipated schoolboy rivalries in SA is renewed when Michaelhouse host Hilton on the fabled Meadows Field in the return match of this year’s derby fixture.
It’s a rivalry that dates back more than 100 years and more than 200 matches. It’s a fixture steeped in tradition, history and prestige, and over the derby weekend the Midlands is always abuzz with parents, old boys and schoolboy rugby enthusiasts.
The June 15 clash in Balgowan will mark the 202nd match between the two schools.
Hilton won the first encounter 6-0 way back in 1904, and since then it has been a keenly and evenly contested affair.
Of the 201 games played so far, Michaelhouse has won 99, Hilton 92 and there have been 10 draws. In 1987 there was nothing to separate the two schools. The 7-7 and 9-9 draws that year underlined how close this contest has been over the years.
Hilton has seen eight of its old boys go on to gain Springbok colours. More recently, Hentie Martens, Wayne Fyvie, Bobby Skinstad and Gary Teichmann represented their country. Michaelhouse had to wait until 2010 for its first Springbok, when Pat Lambie earned the first of his 56 Springbok caps. He was followed shortly thereafter by Pat Cilliers, Ruan Combrinck and Ross Cronje.
One of Michaelhouse’s favourite sons, Pat Lambie said Hilton/Michaelhouse sports fixtures were the most keenly anticipated matches across all sports, and the weekends he looked forward to the most at school.
“The butterflies and excitement in the build-up during the week were that much more intense for a Hilton/Michaelhouse. I remember struggling to sleep, my mind racing and hands sweating days before Saturday. And I still get goosebumps when I hear the song, Brothers in Arms, that played during main-quad war cries on Friday nights.”
Former Springbok and Sharks flank Wayne Fyvie has fond memories of the fixture. Fyvie was a member of a strong Hilton team in 1990 that included Natal scrumhalf Hentie Martens.
“There’s a lot of hype around the derby. It’s a big occasion and it brings old boys and parents to the fore.
“We lost the first match at Michaelhouse,” recalls Wayne. “But we won the return match at home. If I remember correctly, Hentie scored five tries in that match.
“I think the results over the years have been pretty even, and the derby is never a foregone conclusion.”
Wayne says the friendships he’s made from both schools and the camaraderie are more important than the results.
“The bigger picture is more about the tradition, history and the occasion. But it’s always nicer to win,” he said with a smile.
Former Springbok and Sharks captain Gary Teichmann believes the tradition and great rivalry makes it a “very special event on the rugby calendar”.
“You have two schools that are very similar in many ways, but at the same time uniquely different,” said Teichmann, who turned out for Hilton in the early 80s.
“What people love about sport is it is unpredictable and this has been the case with the Hilton-Michaelhouse fixture. Often the team that has been the favourite has come out second best.
“I was fortunate to play in ’83 and ’84, although we only played once in ’84 due to Michaelhouse having a flu epidemic. In ’84 we won 3-0 and I will never forget during the final minutes of the game, the Michaelhouse winger (I won’t say his name) had a chance to win the game, but unfortunately the ball popped out of his hands. The Natal Witness captured that exact moment on the following Monday and to this day I still think he is often reminded of that moment.”
Richard Bates, who runs Fordoun Hotel and Spa just a little further up the R103 from Michaelhouse, remembers his derby clashes against Hilton vividly.
In 1990, as mentioned by Fyvie, Michaelhouse upset Hilton in the first encounter, but Bates, who went on to play professional rugby for London Irish and Worcester Warriors, remembers the return clash for Martens’s five tries.
“I tackled Hentie three times in that match. Unfortunately in all three cases he was already over the tryline,” recalls Bates.
“Often the underdogs would win and because it was such a big derby game, the players would put more into that game than any other. And that’s just the nature of the rivalry.”
New Michaelhouse Rector Antony Clark, who will play host to his first derby, is looking forward to the occasion.
“Hilton have a strong team this year and we have a relatively young side. Nine of our first team are currently in Grade 11, so the prospects for the future are good, but clearly Hilton are the favourites.
“From my perspective, I’ve been in some derbies before, especially when I was headmaster at St Andrews in Grahamstown. The whole purpose of the event is that it’s a fun event. It’s for two schools who respect each other to get together in a day of sport. It’s certainly not medieval warfare, it’s a day of fun, and we are confident that both teams will play their hearts out.
“Hilton headmaster George Harris and I are both educators. We believe in holistic education and sport plays a role in that. And win or lose, one must do so with dignity and integrity. These are the watchwords that are important in an occasion of this nature, along with having fun.”
Harris believes the Hilton-Michaelhouse derby is a “celebration of a long tradition of boys’ school rivalry and camaraderie”.
“This is perhaps best captured at the end of many games on the day when boys exchange jerseys with their mates from the opposing team after a tough encounter on the field,” he said.
“The occasion is a reminder that these institutions are far greater than we individuals who happen to be a part of them at this time in history, and in a fast-paced and instant world our being included in a long established tradition is both sobering and exhilarating.
“Win or lose, the day is about tradition and the values that playing sport teaches in boys’ schools, in particular, as we endeavour to develop young men of stature and upright character.”
After the final whistle, the result may be resigned to a footnote in the history ledgers of the two schools’ rivalry, but it will be the camaraderie and friendships made that will last for a lifetime.