Today, two octogenarian neighbours – one a Michaelhouse old boy and the other a Hilton College old boy – will be watching the archrivals’ 200th traditional clash on the rugby field.
Brian Kramer, 87, is a Michaelhouse loyalist, John Morgan, 82, will be happy for either team to win. Morgan attended Hilton as a boy but ended his career working at Michaelhouse, which his sons subsequently attended.
The rivalry between the two elite schools on opposite ends of the Midlands Meander goes back well over a century and now the twice-a-year event attracts crowds of around 10 000.
The first match took place in 1904. Hilton won 6-0.
“I’m the only survivor of the 1948 squad,” said Kramer, recalling that the match the year before emphasised the value of sportsmanship.
“In 1947 Hilton had (future Springboks) Brian Pfaff, Nic Labuschagne and Peter Johnstone on their side, and we had Don Clark on the wing.
Hilton were leading and Clark ran around his man, scored under the posts and we all thought we had won it.
“But when we looked back on the 25-yard line, it turned out that he had put his foot into touch.
“It was a Michaelhouse boy who had put the flag up, so Hilton won the match,” Kramer recalled – much to Morgan’s amusement.
“The rector said it was wonderful. That’s the spirit of the game. It doesn’t matter who wins.”
Kramer remembered a 1977 match as his favourite because his son, David, playing wing, ran halfway across the field, scoring a try directly under the poles next to where he and his family were sitting.
And Clive Scotney, a member of Hilton’s first team in 1977, also recently recalled that field etiquette remained paramount.
“We were well aware of the tradition of the great rivalry of the day, and the high level of sportsmanship that was expected of us by our coach, Peter ‘Molly’ Mordaunt, and uncompromising headmaster Raymond Slater,” wrote Scotney in an article in the sports publication KZN10.com
“Any shows of unsportsmanlike behaviour by any Hilton boy in any team over a weekend was severely dealt with on the following Monday morning by the latter, with high tackles, questioning the ref and socks down among the punishable crimes.”
Both teams have enjoyed winning streaks of seven fixtures, Michaelhouse more recently, between 2007 and 2011, with Hilton’s coming way back, between 1926 and 1929.
Kramer, who served on the board of governors at Michaelhouse, recalled that old boys had been known to react to such streaks by sending their sons to the other school when their Alma Mater was the losing side.
Both Kramer and Morgan have been sugar farmers, Kramer in Gingindlovu and Morgan in the Lowveld of Zimbabwe before taking up a job as groundsman at Michaelhouse.
Since the first Hilton- Michaelhouse match, Michaelhouse have won 99, Hilton 90 and there have been 10 draws, most recently 7-7 and 9-9 in 1987.
There have been two matches – each school hosting one – every year with recent exceptions when each school had flu and shigella epidemics in different years. In 1999, Hilton pulled the plug on Michaelhouse in protest at their having bought players from the Free State after suffering a heavy defeat in their previous encounter.
“It bolstered the whole open age group. We were annihilated. It was men against boys,” said Hilton teacher and coach of various teams, Evan Brown.
For Brown, the most memorable moment in his 40 years involved in Hilton rugby was when Hentie Martens, who later became a Springbok, and played for three years in Hilton’s first team, scored three tries in a return match against Michaelhouse following a defeat the first time around.
“It was phenomenal,” said Brown, adding that rugby itself has changed dramatically.v The level of rugby in all A league schools has quadrupled in the last 10 years. Lots more money is being put into coaching, physiotherapy and so on.”
Much of a Hilton-Michaelhouse match involves traditions and rituals. Scotney recalled feeling it from the field.
“After warming up, as we picked our way through the picnic blankets at the top of the embankment before running out, the adrenaline surges, the smell of wintergreen oil and Tiger balm in the nostrils mingled with the fancy perfumes of the ladies – you know it’s Hilton-Michaelhouse time,” wrote Scotney.
No longer a blankets-on-the-ground affair, it’s an event where parents hire gazebos and the comfort of chairs – a sort of equivalent to a box at Kings Park.
Shouting from the side includes war cries to chanting, displays that involve the schoolboys competing with one another in choreographed movements, African drums and music.
A special feature is spelling the names of their respective schools with their white shirts by opening their dark blazers, one side always trying to outdo the other.
“It’s a competition within a competition and the parents are the sole judges,” said Brown.
He added that Hilton boys sang the school song, modified by former Springbok captain and old Hiltonian Bobby Skinstad from The Flower of Scotland before the match, at half-time and at the end.
Sharks chief Gary Teichmann, another former Springbok captain and old Hiltonian, said Hilton-Michaelhouse fixtures were “definitely one of the most anticipated clashes on the school rugby calendar and it generates huge support.
“Tradition, passion, pride, camaraderie and community are words I associate with my experience of both participating in and watching this fixture over the years. There is always a festival atmosphere created and it’s special to be part of the day. When looking back, I have nothing but fond memories,” said Teichmann, adding: “My best wishes are extended to both schools. May the best team win on the day.”
“I find it all great fun,” said Kramer. At the end of today’s event on Hilton College’s Gilfillan Field, he would have watched his 90th game.
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