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Packhouse-rugby is on point

There’s no doubt that SA is rugby-mad. The Springboks’ majestic World Cup win – for the fourth time – is still fresh in our memories. The deciduous fruit industry recently had its own Rugby Cup – a one-day tournament between the packhouses in the EGVV region. Gerrit Rautenbach was there.

It all started way back in 1992 when several fish factories on the West Coast came together to hold a Weskus Visfabrieke-rugbytoernooi. An event that quickly became an annual highlight.

Dimitri Jacobs, Two-a-Day’s Group HR Director, said that when they learned about the visfabriektoernooi, they thought, why not have something similar for apples?

Representatives from Two-a-Day, Kromco, Fruitways, and Elgin Fruit Juices started talking and a management committee was formalised. “Each packhouse had to establish a sports committee, with the tournament resorting under the Boland Rugby Union and they also make Boland qualified referees available for the day,” says Dimitri.

The tournament has grown to such an extent that the management committee is now canvassing to get the tournament to fall under the umbrella of the South African Rugby Union to look at the possibilities of a national competition.

The first kick-off was in 2016, and every year since then, except for the Covid-years. Bright and early, on 18 November it was time again…There were six teams this year. Kromco, Elgin Free Range, Two-a-Day, WCFP, Fruitways and for the first time Williams Brothers. Kromco B-side vs. Western Cape Fruit Packers (WCFP) B-side tackled each other in the opening game that started at 08:00 in the morning.

Locals love the tournament so much, that there was already a bit of a crowd on the pavilion of Grabouw Hoërskool at this hour. By lunchtime, it looked like there was only standing room left. Year after year, more and more people support the tournament. So much so that netball and soccer have been added to the mix.

There is a B- and A-league and with each team playing multiple times (depending on your place on the log). Games are 20 minutes per half. This gives it a bit of a Sevens Rugby flavour. The longer the day, the louder the music with the crowd bopping away.

Everybody’s chipping in. The school gives the sports ground free of charge. The municipality and law enforcement make sure the day goes well. This year, a water pipe started leaking and with just a phone call it got fixed.

Even though this is a fun day out, everybody takes it seriously. Call it serious fun. Every person involved has a team shirt with their designation on the back, be it COACH, MEDIC, TEAM MANAGER, whatever…even SUPPORTER!

The value of this day is immense. Says Danielle Williams from Williams Bros: “This was great team building for our workers. We did okay for our first year, but next year we know what to expect and will be ready. Weeks ahead of the tournament workers were practising and the kits were made. The team spirit was contagious and everyone at the packhouse came to cheer.”

The players play their hearts out, diving into rucks in clouds of dust, giving their all. The spectators carry their teams with shrieks and advice. “Gaan om! Gaan om! Vreet hom! In die middel! Ref wat doen jy?! Jis, hoek toe!” To them those players are not their colleagues on this day, they’re superheroes, walking tall like Cheslin Kolbe. And over the years the tournament has delivered some stars playing for Boland Kavaliers, Wayden Nel playing Boland under 21 and of course Connor Mahoney, the Blitsbok.

Then…suddenly after a full day’s action, stress, fun and laughter, the climax of the tournament is there. The hourglass is almost empty. It’s all about the win. WCFP and Two-a-Day made it to the final. WCFP leads by 17 – 15 with a mere minute of injury time left. The ref’s whistle sounds shrill on the 22 of WCFP. His arm shoots up. Penalty for Two-a-Day. A kick. A moment. An eruption! Two-a-Day did it again. And like South Africans got used to by now, how? With one point! Two-a-Day might consider changing their name. One is good enough.

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