Kings wing Makazole Mapimpi is a local product of the Eastern Cape. Photo: Richard Huggard, BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG – Sir Winston Churchill defended the practice of changing one’s mind.

He suggested that not to do so, when circumstances and sense demand, would be the behaviour of a fool.

Of course, he ratted and re-ratted on his party at will and, apart from his inspirational war leadership, was regarded by many as a dangerous adventurer and self-publicist. 

He took part, personally, in the last cavalry charge of the British army and yet, he lived to see astronauts go into space. Yes, he was a man of his time, but what a life he led.

Last weekend I visited Dale College in King William’s Town. A decade ago, I had met the headmaster at a function in Joburg.

We had discussed rugby and education and, in particular, the transformation process in the new SA. He told me that, before commenting on either, one should attend a big rugby derby at his school. 

A commitment to do so was made then and, although late, it was delivered on last weekend. Every year the Old Dalians get together to raise some cash, lower plenty of beers and they centre the events around a big sporting fixture.

This year it was the clash against bitter rivals Selborne.

Dale College oozes tradition. A stroll through its halls is a journey through South African history, at least through the story of an old white, English-speaking school. War records, death pennies, uniforms and memorabilia sit beside evidence of sporting excellence.

The great HO de Villiers is the star of the show, and his boyish good looks are to be seen everywhere. However, of late, changes are reflected in the story, and the photographs and trophies become more and more representative. That was good to see.

The hall was crowded to the rafters. Most there happened to be white people, but I noticed that the current first XV were all black. I remembered the principal’s words from a decade earlier...

The speeches and breakfast finished, we repaired to the sports fields to watch the build-up to the big first XV clash. So many complaints and problems are aired about transformation in rugby, so the reality on show last week was spectacular and inspirational.

The standard and level of skill and commitment was sky high, even in B and C teams. The juniors played barefoot and, at 15, boots appeared. The teams tore into each other and the level of sportsmanship and discipline was impressive. 

John Robbie.

Game after game was played, and the crowd swelled as the first XV clash approached. I was not in Europe, I was in Africa, and it was wonderful.

I could scarcely believe the standard of rugby played in the second XV match. The packs were well drilled and big and the ball was moved, despite the muddy conditions, with confidence and with underlying football intellect. 

The backs ran at a pace I hadn’t seen before in schools rugby. Overlaps were created and finished and, clearly, the coaches at both schools knew their onions.

In general, Selborne teams use their packs, and they kick quite a lot. Not so Dale, and their expansive approach won the day with ease. I imagine that HO himself would have approved. These were the B teams?

The timing of the flight back prevented me from watching the first-team clash, but Dale won a thriller 20-18. I can only imagine what a spectacle it was.

As I was driven out of town, I noticed the usual spatial abominations of our country. The town proper gives way to the suburbs, townships and, finally, informal settlements.

In the latter I saw a muddy sports ground on the side of a hill. There was no grass left on the bumpy pitch but, proud and tall, at each end, roughly fashioned out of crooked, unpainted tree trunks, were rugby posts. It was a reminder that the Eastern Cape is rugby country through and through.

I had always thought the Southern Kings were a political creation and had no real view on the need to keep them in Super Rugby.

Last weekend made me change my mind. The people of the Eastern Cape need and deserve a team at the top level. If you don’t believe me, visit Dale College on match-day.

Saturday Star