For the past nine years, the SA Rugby Legends Association (SARLA) has played a major role in transforming rugby at grassroots level through its ground-breaking Vuka Rugby Development programme. Vuka provides a way to uplift and empower youngsters from previously disadvantaged areas by giving them access to a regular rugby training programme.
Established in the Western Cape in 2008 with only 3 participating schools, Vuka has now grown exponentially to reach 466 schools in 11 of the 14 official SA Rugby Unions countrywide. Over 300 coaches take part in the initiative.
Vuka Rugby is fully supported and endorsed by SA Rugby and forms part of their national development objectives, and involves a range of age groups for both boys and girls from U/15 through to U/19. This means that youth of all ages get the positive benefit of attending regular sport coaching sessions, learning how to foster a healthy body and mind.
“When we established our programme in 2008, the main aim was to help develop rugby at this level, as well as to help keep the youth in this area away from the many negative influences that they are unfortunately exposed to, such as gangs and drugs”, said SARLA President Gavin Varejes.
He continues, “Over the past 9 years, as the project has grown, we realized that Vuka Rugby was having a positive impact on the growth of the game and when SA Rugby started taking notice, it was a wonderful opportunity to take the pro-gramme countrywide.”
Vuka Rugby’s success is based on community involvement at all levels of the game. The year-long programme begins with BokSmart sessions for coaches and administrators, a referee skills programme and weekly training sessions with the players. Matches are played weekly in the same time frame as the tra-ditional rugby schools season in term 2, and in some provinces, term 3 as well. It also includes workshops and educational sessions from SAIDS or the South African Institute of Drug Free Sports, educating the children on the dangers of substance abuse.
“We answered SA Rugby’s call to assist with the transformation of the game and recognised the need to not only develop players but coaching and administrative staff, and referees as well”, said Varejes.
Over the years, Unions from around the country have embraced the programme and Vuka is now run in the Western Province, South Western Districts, Eastern Province, Griffons, Griquas, Lions, Bulls, Leopards, Falcons, KZN and Free State Rugby union regions.
Vuka Rugby also runs a rugby tournament during the June/July school holidays. The various schools select their best U15 and U19 players and combine to form teams that represent their communities and play against each other in the Leg-ends Cup. The Cup also includes 7’s rugby for U16 girls.
The Carfind.co.za Iqhawe Week is the third rugby tournament run by Vuka Rug-by and is run along similar lines to the U/16 Grant Khomo Week and U/18 Cra-ven Week.
“Iqhawe Week is the only tournament of its kind in the country earmarked to give boys from non-traditional, small, and rural schools an opportunity to play at national level”, said tournament Director, Pieter Muller.
“This year the 5th annual Carfind.co.za Iqhawe Week will take place at the Bill Jardine stadium in Johannesburg during the October school holidays.”
As a result of the Carfind.co.za Iqhawe Week, in 2015, 26 boys were identified by various rugby unions to play in their Grant Khomo teams in 2016, giving them opportunities to further their rugby careers on a far larger platform.
“We are very proud of the Vuka Rugby programme and the growth of it across the country. Whilst our dream is that some of these youngsters are identified and nurtured for future rugby growth at higher levels, the most important thing is that we are also contributing towards the social development of our youth, so that they are fine upstanding citizens of our country by the time that they leave school”, said Varejes