The history of K-Day

It was May 1898 and the Kingswood College Rugby Union Football team wandered across the Valley to Lower Field and met the St Andrews College team in the first of what was to become one of the most enduring school rugby matches in South Africa.

K-Day: One of the greatest rivalries in schoolboy sport Pic: St Andrew's College

K-Day: One of the greatest rivalries in schoolboy sport
Pic: St Andrew’s College

While this was the first time the two schools’ 1st XV’s  in fact met it was not the first time that they had played each other as in 1896 The St Andrews 2nd XV played the Kingswood 1st XV  and this match was drawn. The first 1st XV’s outing was won 6-3 by St Andrews and this match has been won more often than not by St Andrews. This has become particularly noticeable from the middle of the last century up to the present. The two schools should probably not be playing each other as the number of boys at each actually put them into different classifications but the traditions and camaraderie of this fixture are what have kept it alive. The week leading up to, and the weekend itself, are what create the vibe and atmosphere which is about far more than just a rugby match.

While mention is always made of the boys’ sports it must be remembered that since 1974 there have been girls at Kingswood and this meant that Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) were included in the K-Day weekend as opposition for the girls. While this is not unique in South African School sport it has added a dimension to the Grahamstown Rivalry as there are actually three schools that form part of K-Day. In later years some of the newer schools in the area have been included to offer opposition to the lower St Andrews teams as they have more sides than Kingswood in each age group. K-Day has become a truly Grahamstown institution rather than a competition between two schools.

The Old Kingswoodians (OK) rugby team that played the OAs in 2009

The Old Kingswoodians (OK) rugby team that played the OAs in 2009

The sport usually begins on the Wednesday with the boys’ hockey and then the highlight of the weekend, besides the main game, is definitely the Old Boys/Girls matches. These take place on the Friday evening and are played at the non-host school. This is a time of particular camaraderie and when played at Kingswood, as they are going to be this year, the rugby and hockey matches all happen at the same facility known as City Lords. This main field is flanked by the Wyvern Club, which is the Old Boys Club of Kingswood, and as can be imagined the after match “fellowship” carries on late into the night.

The Saturday boasts the Girls Hockey, Netball and then of course the rugby with the main game happening at around 4pm. As I said earlier St Andrews tend to emerge the victor but the sweetness of the victory when Kingswood wins makes for some interesting anecdotes. I remember the win, on Lower, in 2011 when Kingswood took a one point lead 9 minutes from time and then spent those nine minutes defending their line as St Andrews, growing more and more desperate, threw everything, including the Highlander’s (Old Andrean Club) sink at them. St Andrews turned down a kickable penalty 5 minutes from time and when the final whistle was blown Kingswood had won. This was their first victory in 17 years which means that the majority of the kids at both schools had not been born the last time Kingswood won. I saw grown men cry that day! On returning to the Wyvern we heard the Kingswood School bell being rung and this old bell in the School House bell tower had one boy after the other hanging on its rope and was kept ringing for at least an hour and a half.

A number of Springboks have emerged from the two schools. Many more from St Andrews than Kingswood but it is worth mentioning a few of them. In the 1920’s Kingswood produced the Osler brothers, Bennie and Stanley, and Jack Slater. They between them set up a record that I have been unable to find being repeated anywhere. In 1928 when South Africa played New Zealand in Durban, South Africa won the match 17-0 and the points were scored by Bennie Osler (two penalties and two drop goals) and Slater scored a try. This meant that all the points in the test match were scored by old boys of one school. This feat I have been unable to find replicated anywhere in international rugby when the points in the match were scored by more than one person!

*Kingswood have several Old Boys plying their trade on the professional rugby circuit including: David Denton (Edinburgh and Scotland), Brett Wilkinson (Connacht and Ireland), Grant Hattingh (Blue Bulls) and Roscoe Speckman (Pumas).

Jack Slater later went on to coach Kingswood and it is said he began the tradition that the Kingswood first XV eats a ceremonially prepared springbok leg on the night before the St Andrews game. The springbok is “poached” from an old Andrean or a current students’ farm. I have heard from a member of the ’74-75 Kingswood team that this tradition was revived in their time although it seems to have now fallen away.

*Slater is the grandfather of current Springbok centre Jan Serfontein.

On the St Andrews side there have been a number of springboks but Nick Mallet must rank amongst the greatest. He was the South African coach when they went on the 17 match, record equalling,  unbeaten streak and at various times he played for South Africa, WP, UCT and Oxford as well as coaching Italy at international level. On a personal note, his sister Jenny taught me in Std two at St George’s Grammar School in Cape Town and he was our cricket u10 cricket coach that year. Who would have guessed then that I would go on to Kingswood?

*Other St Andrew’s Boks include (among others) Ryan Kankowski and Russell Bennett.

The Old Andreans (OA) rugby team from 2011

The Old Andreans (OA) rugby team from 2011

There has been some talk on various websites about what the biggest school boy derby is and some of it has gotten quite vitriolic. I think it can be safely said that the Graeme College – St Andrews College game is the oldest schoolboy rugby match, at the very least of those that are still being played. This game was first played on the 13th April 1878 between St Andrews and the then Drostdy School which later became Graeme College.  I would seem that about 1880 is when the first matches were played in Cape Town and SACS played Bishops in 1892 for the first time, according to the records I can find. The big Cape Town Derby is between Bishops and Rondebosch, which incidentally is being played as I write this, and was first played in 1911. The arguably biggest Derby game in the country, and probably the world, in respect of number of spectators (25000), which takes place in Paarl every August between Paarl Gymnasium and Paarl Boys High, was first played as late as 1915.

So while K-Day is not the oldest , or the biggest and is not played between the top ranked schools, it has been 115 years since the first time it was played and in that time the connection and rivalry between the schools has grown. If you are ever in or around Grahamstown early in June each year plan to get to K-Day. You will not be disappointed.

While much more could be written about the history of this interschool rivalry and the many others around the country, most of them not even mentioned here, it is enough to say that K-Day does stand out as one of the leading derbies.

K-Day is on Saturday the 15th June this year and will be played on Lower Field at St Andrews. The Old Boys Rugby is at City Lords at 5.30pm on the Friday evening.

See you there!!

By Deon de Waal (OK, 1985)

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