Let’s go bowling, say former rugby buddies

Rugby stalwarts Christian Stewart, Clive Human, Anton Chait, Allan Footman, Gary Gold and Bradley Moore swopped the oval ball for a biased ball.

From the hustle and bustle of the rugby pitch to the more serene but no less competitive bowling green may be a stretch of the imagination for some, but not for the marketing guys at WPCC Bowls Club in Newlands.

One of their marketing ideas was to introduce this skilled game, often devalued through its slowpaced nature, to men more accustomed to a sport of frenetic pace and energy, namely former rugby players.

Add to that the delightful spice of decades-old rivalry between Villager, Hamilton and False Bay rugby clubs, and one was almost guaranteed an afternoon of funfilled laughter disguising that old competitive edge.

“We decided to focus our energy on sportsmen and women who have not been able to play sport through isolation and are looking to reconnect socially with their teammates and opposition,” said Grant Rightford of WPCC Bowls Club.

“Through this we hoped the impact would be two-fold, by attracting younger people to the game but more importantly, to give the players a chance to reconnect.”

The reasoning is simple. With an on-field competitive history spanning decades having transformed into a friendly interaction of Crocks rugby and shared rugby tours, the team at WPCC Bowls saw the opportunity to launch what is destined to be a monthly event between these three southern suburbs rugby giants which they hope to expand to include current competitive players as an addition to the roster.

And so it was that on a blustery afternoon last week, winter-weary players took to the greens to try their hand at what appears to be a serene afternoon of rolling balls from one end of a green to the other. Great friendships off the field were again put to the test as the naturally competitive edge and club loyalties were tested.

How difficult could it be?

The age group was around 50 to 60 years old, with a couple of mid-40s young Turks bringing up the rear. Would it be the two of the country’s oldest rugby clubs going head-to-head for honours, or would False Bay show their prowess and dexterity on a smoother surface than the average pitch of yore?

The inaugural Southern Suburbs Rugby ’n Bowls Derby treated club rugby fans of the eighties to seeing some of Hammies, Villager and Bay stars of that era.

They were also seen to rub their eyes in disbelief at the sight of some who had gone on to higher levels of the game, such as former Springbok centre Christian Stewart and former Springbok assistant coach Gary Gold, joining Anton Chait in the Villager outfit.

The Bay and Hammies “lads” were less star-studded, yet no less determined to prove that bowls was a whole new ball game.

Teams were made up of 12 players each, a substantial crowd on its own, and with a number of supporters in attendance, laughter was prominently audible throughout the afternoon.

The banter was refreshing, no less good-natured than when these players squared off between four white lines, the camaraderie forged through the years, was palpable.

While teams filling positions two and three on the winners rostrum may claim that the result is not important, False Bay showed their adaptability to a skillful sport laced with good-natured ribbing, excited encouragement and gleeful whoops of delight of success.

Gentle hi-fives with arthritic hands were aplenty.

The Constantia boys take a healthy lead in the three-match competition, their 14 points over Villager’s 6 and Hamiltons’s 4 setting up an enthralling round two in the first week of November, with calls of “we’ll be back” ensuring that the first Thursday in November promises to be a cracker at Avenue de Mist.

As corny as it may sound, friendship and the spirit of competing were the winners of the day.

Competitive bowlers they may not be, but they gave their all and as they retired to the clubhouse for a cold beverage and a boerewors roll afterwards, the common sentiment was that this should be continued.

Those First XV rugby players in attendance expressed their desire to join in on the fun, and round two could well include the respective clubs’ “First Dozen”.

If the objective was for friends from three southern suburbs rugby clubs to dust off the lockdown cobwebs by getting together in a safe environment, it was undoubtedly mission accomplished.

Time will tell if after the next two rounds, the bowls bug has bitten deeply enough to boost the player numbers of local bowls clubs.