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REGULAR readers of my ramblings will probably not be surprised to hear that I confess to be a bit cynical about the development and transformation initiatives run by our various national federations. In fact, I’ve been heard to say that very little is being done at grassroots level and, instead, racial quotas are being imposed on representative teams, providing the illusion that sports are transforming while little is being done to ensure that there is a supply of skillful players of colour coming up through the age groups to allow selectors, one day, to pick teams on merit that are also representative of the nation’s demographics.

I had my eyes opened, and my spirits lifted last week, however, when I went to the Iqhawe Week at Joburg’s Raiders Rugby club.

The tournament, now officially one of SA Rugby’s youth weeks, is an initiative by the SA Rugby Legends Association. Legends CEO, former Springbok wing, Stefan Terblanche, explains that this is the fourth year that they are running the event and it stems from their concern that the game is dying out at smaller schools, and at those that are not part of the highly competitive, professional setup.

By the nature of things, that means helping the game survive at schools where most of the players are black, and where the coaches don’t all have a background of playing the game.

The result has been the introduction of Vuka rugby by the Legends. Basically, they organise competitions in those schools and, according to Terblanche, they were active in eight of the rugby provinces this year, with close to 2 500 games played.

The association organises leagues and, crucially, they pay for properly qualified coaches to be sent to the schools. They get help there from the development programmes of the various provincial unions and, as a result, they placed 228 coaches in schools this season.

“It’s grassroots rugby,” Terblanche explains, “played mainly at ex-model C schools where the game has all but disappeared, but also at township and rural schools where the interest in rugby is high, but a lack of resources has limited the opportunities to play.”

There are local leagues, which produce local winners and the top two schools eventually play in the Legends Cup final, at one of the big rugby stadiums around the country. From there, it was short step to organising an interprovincial tournament, for players at schools that are under threat. The Iqhawe Week was established, and the under-15 age group was decided on because it fills the gap between the primary schools Craven Week and the under-16
Grant Khomo Week and, from the outset, it was stipulated that no players from “mainstream” rugby schools would be eligible. It’s a great platform for talented players at the smaller schools to perform on and the idea, according to Terblanche, is expose the best of them to the talent scouts from the unions, so that they can be included in their talented player projects. The Legends identify the best on view – they named 47 last year – and of those 23 were at the Grant Khomo Week this year. The traditional schools scouts are there too, of course, and a number of the players on view last week will, no doubt, end up at established rugby schools on bursaries next season. I’ve declared my opposition to the practice of “buying” players, I know, but in this case it’s about ensuring the best players of colour get the best opportunities to develop, at an early age.

That’s proper transformation. Credit where credit’s due, the SA Rugby Legends Association are making a real difference, and the time is going to come, hopefully, when a couple of these players get national recognition wholly on their own merits.



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