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Back You are here: Home Sports Rugby Eastern Cape Rugby: JP Smith & Josh Stander- Queen's 1/2 Back Duo!
Thursday, 12 July 2012 12:10

Rugby: JP Smith & Josh Stander- Queen's 1/2 Back Duo!


After years of waiting; years of populist opinion calling for his appointment; years of biding his time, the incomparable mastermind of South African rugby, Heyneke Meyer, took the reins of the Springboks and it seemed all was right with the world.

joshjpWithin weeks, supporters became detractors as he was vilified for his personal selection criteria. Popular and in form players made way to individuals who fitted in to his broader game plan. He pointed out that one cannot simply select the best fifteen rugby players in the country and expect them to gel. What the critics failed to realize is that a coach of that level understands that rugby is not about simply throwing the most talented individuals on a field and expecting them to get a result. First-class rugby is complimentary; it thrives on combinations and the ability of players to work together in outsmarting their opposition. From their time together at Hangklip in Queenstown to their move to the distinguished Queens College, JP Smith and Josh Stander have developed an almost telepathic bond that is reminiscent of identical twins. Impressive players in their own right, the pair as a duo is far stronger than the sum of its parts.


At 85 and 86kg respectively, Stander and Smith are larger than your average schoolboy halfback pairing. Impressive physical specimens for teenagers, they’ll no doubt show even greater gains in size and strength as they develop in years to come. Regrettably a Border Rugby Union directive (stating that the province will not select any boys for their Craven Week side if they have committed themselves to other unions after school) will mean that both Josh and JP will be watching this year’s schoolboy showpiece on TV. This after representing their province at under thirteen, under sixteen and last year’s Craven Week whilst still in Grade Eleven. The pair was spotted by Heyneke Meyer whilst competing at Grant Khomo Week and their standout performances led to the architect of the Bulls Empire making an offer of two-year junior contracts in Pretoria.


Ever the professional setup, JP and Josh will be staying at the legendary ‘Bros’ hostel that houses the contracted junior Bulls whom the union have identified as having all the raw talent to possibly make the big time. Here they will be nurtured, developed and brought up in the Blue Bulls culture; an ethos that is about so much more than simply playing for a rugby team. Across the training paddock will be Francois Hougaard; an idol of both youngsters and yet another example of a young man who did not attend Craven Week, but refused to let this fact determine his future in the sport.


Ever the groundbreaker, one facet of Hougaard’s game that the Bulls harnessed was the magnitude of his various talents. This out and out halfback was transformed into a world-class wing and one of the most dynamic game breakers on the world stage. Whether Smith and Stander continue on their present path or are galvanized in a new form by the Bulls brains trust remains to be seen (JP has played at centre and Josh in the midfield & at fullback); they will certainly offer something new and exciting from the cripplingly structured game that has crawled into schoolboy and age group rugby.


In stark contrast to this concerning phenomenon is the willingness to ‘give the ball some air’ that is prevalent throughout the Eastern Cape. From the early morning barefoot adventures of ‘Bulletjies’ mini-rugby to their inclusion in the Queens College 1st XV squad whilst still in Grade ten, JP and Josh have brought a willingness to ‘have a go’ when the slimmest of opportunities presents itself. A half gap is belligerently transformed into a gaping hole; something Grey PE found out the hard way in 2011, when Queens slowly went about overturning a sizeable deficit to defeat the hosts by one point on their own Reunion Day.      


Inspired by the exploits of fellow Queenians (and current Baby Boks Prop) Allan Dell, Lionel Cronje, Sibusiso Sithole and Dale’s Andile Jho, the boys relished the prospect of Queens’ return to the Kearsney Easter Festival; an occasion that presented the squad with the opportunity to test their metal against some of the best in the business; and whilst results against the likes of Paul Roos and Glenwood might not have gone as they would have liked, it provided a self-reflective opening for the team to look for constant improvement and overcome possible shortcomings before the ‘regular season’ within the Eastern Cape.


With their schoolboy careers in the white jersey all but done, 2013 will provide an exciting new adventure for the two dayboys (they both live in Queenstown) in a large student city. Balance will be provided with the Bulls insistence on their juniors undertaking some sort of tertiary education and a taste of varsity life will be found in the Varsity Cup Young Guns competition; the under twenty version of the fastest growing enterprise on the rugby scene. The decision of what career path to take is one that is daunting to any school leaver and this is no different for a talented athlete. Whilst indecision is still prevalent, a future in Sports Science is one that will always prove itself attractive to boys with such an inclination.


The strength of schoolboy rugby in this country may be described as both a gift and a curse. It played a significant part in the recent success of the Baby Boks, but often leads the local rugby fraternity to place an unhealthy emphasis on rugby weeks and landmark squad selections. Indeed, this country is littered with the tales of schoolboy superstars who reached their plateau and faded into insignificance.

Though it may be said that nothing is guaranteed in the unpredictable rugby landscape, a vote of confidence from Heyneke Meyer goes a long way to suggesting that this is certainly not the last time that we’ll be hearing the names of Smith and Stander said in quick succession.

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