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Club rugby at its best on display in Frances Baard Rugby Region final

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This weekend saw the Frances Baard Rugby Region final take place at the Kimberley Rugby Club. Kimberley Rugby Club and Sol Plaatje University Rugby Club had been waiting for this day, and it showed.

Sol Plaatje University Rugby Club was crowned winners of the Frances Baard Rugby Region Tournament after beating Kimberley Rugby Club 36-26 in the final. Picture: Danie van der Lith

THERE is something about club rugby that gets my heart beating faster than any other type of rugby.

I ask myself, is it the pure passion these ordinary guys show on the field? Is it the crowd shouting as loud as they can from the sidelines? Or is it the emotions each player shows during the game?

When I think of club rugby, I think of a bunch of ordinary guys, who are not necessarily elite athletes, playing for the love of the sport. Nobody is being paid. Everybody needs to take time out of their daily schedule to ensure that they attend practices. Some of the guys stay out of town, working on the farms, but they still make time to attend practice sessions.

This is grassroots rugby in its purest form, driven by passion, commitment, and camaraderie.

This weekend saw the Frances Baard Rugby Region final take place at the Kimberley Rugby Club. Kimberley Rugby Club (KRC) and Sol Plaatje University Rugby Club (SPURC) had been waiting for this day, and it showed.

It was a match that everyone was looking forward to, as both teams had been evenly matched throughout the tournament. Each of these teams played 12, won 11, and lost one game, setting the stage for n epic final.

Leading the charge for SPURC was Johnathan Francke, the player-coach and former Griqua player, who looked more dangerous than ever before. Francke was exceptional with the ball in hand, running hard at his opponents and breaking through the defence of the KRC. SPURC’s intensity put KRC on the back foot early in the game.

However, KRC’s captain, Deon van Niekerk, was undeterred by the early setback. Captaining his team for the first time this year, Van Niekerk demonstrated immense leadership, putting his body on the line and taking massive hits to inspire his team. His determination was palpable, and his hope was that his teammates would match his intensity and passion.

Kimberley Rugby Club captain, Deon van Niekerk is seen with the ball in hand. Picture: Danie van der Lith

However, in the end, the match concluded with SPURC defeating KRC 36-26. The final whistle was met with an eruption of cheers from SPURC fans, who flooded the field in celebration.

Francke, the player-coach, was lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates in recognition of his contributions to the team’s success.

The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for KRC captain Deon van Niekerk, the disappointment was evident on his face, and what the loss meant could be seen through every tear that was shed on the field, but his dedication and leadership were unquestionable.

Kimberley Rugby Club captain Deon van Niekerk was visibly emotional after their 36-26 defeat against Sol Plaatje University Rugby Club. Picture: Danie van der Lith

In an interview with the DFA, the KRC skipper reflected on the season’s positives. He emphasised the satisfaction of seeing their game plans come to fruition, leading them to the final. “Our team spirit was exceptionally strong this year, transforming us into a well-oiled machine that propelled us all the way to the final,” he remarked.

Van Niekerk acknowledged the challenges faced, particularly the departure of key players, including former captain Franco Stassen, who left for SPURC along with several others. However, he noted that this allowed new, talented young players to join the team, promising a bright future for the next season.

“Maintaining positivity among the players was tough because not everyone agrees with the decisions made on the field,” van Niekerk admitted. “But ultimately, everyone bought into the plan. As captain, it was rewarding to see each player, especially the younger ones, sacrifice so much and put in the hard work to reach the final. They showed me their commitment to the team.”

Reflecting on his first season as captain, van Niekerk shared newfound respect for his predecessors.

“As a player, you don’t fully understand the captain’s role and the reasoning behind their decisions. Now, having experienced it myself, I have immense respect for my former captains.”

Looking ahead, van Niekerk highlighted the need to prioritise fitness and practice sessions. “We tried to train together as much as possible, but it’s challenging with so many players working out of town or late hours. Practising three times a week was our goal, but it wasn’t always feasible.”

Van Niekerk also expressed heartfelt gratitude towards the supporters. “Without our supporters, we’re just a bunch of guys chasing a ball on the weekend. They drive us to new heights. We play for our parents, former players, and all those who come out to watch us. When we’re behind on the scoreboard and hear their cheers, it lifts us up,” he said.

He concluded by thanking everyone who supported the team.

“We don’t always see them during the game, but we hear them, and that’s why we play. With their support from the sidelines, we hope to make them proud again next season. I also want to thank my team and coaches for their incredible dedication this season.

“As a captain, I couldn’t have asked for better,” van Niekerk concluded.

In the end, there can be only one winner, and in this case, I think the winner is rugby. The spirit, passion, and love for the game displayed by both teams and their supporters embody everything that makes club rugby special.

It is not just about the final score, but about the heart and soul that every player and fan brings to the field.

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