The selection of five FNB NMMU-Madibaz players for the World Rugby U20 Championship is an indication that the Eastern Cape has become a serious breeding ground for young talent.
Centre Jeremy Ward will captain the Junior Boks with number eight Junior Pokomela appointed one of his two deputies for the tournament that takes place in England from June 7 to 25.
They will be joined by hooker Tango Balekile, fullback Keanu Vers and prop Nicolaas Oosthuizen.
It was the strongest indication yet of the hard work being done by the university in conjunction with the SA Rugby Union Kings Academy, said Madibaz rugby manager Melissa Awu.
“Student-athletes out there can certainly see we are able to groom talent in the province that is extremely competitive on the national stage.”
She said they hoped that the introduction of Super Rugby in the region would create a rugby identity for young players to aspire to.
“We are also hoping that we will get the support to nurture the young talent from whatever backgrounds to achieve their dreams.”
She said the players’ selection illustrated that it was possible to study while competing at the highest level, ensuring their holistic development.
Awu explained that a close working relationship between Madibaz Sport and the Kings Academy, under former Springbok Robbi Kempson, had been a catalyst in the emergence of local talent.
“We work closely with the academy, so the relationship complements each party,” said Awu.
“Robbi has a great eye for talent and, with this collaboration, he has the task to bring the best in the region to the university.”
Awu said the recruitment and subsequent training and development of the youngsters were done in conjunction head coach David Maidza, who took care of them when they represented the Madibaz.
Last year, many of the institution’s players were part of the Eastern Province team who won the U19 Currie Cup title under the captaincy of Ward.
Awu said the academy and university have a joint venture with regards to the contracting of players into the junior structures.
“The focus is on recruiting talented rugby students who are academically sound so as to ensure they have something to fall back on after their playing careers.”
She also paid tribute to the coaching system in place at schools’ level, which has assisted the development of players.
At the academy, said Awu, these players are then mentored by the likes of the newly appointed Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick, Southern Kings assistant coach Barend Pieterse and Kempson.