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From Tsakane to Eastern Europe
Since the South African Rugby Legends Association (SARLA) launched its VUKA rugby development initiative a decade ago, many young rugby stars have been dis-covered in previously untapped and underprivileged areas. And SA Under-19 achiever, Thabo Ndimande, is the most recent embodiment of VUKA’s success.

From humble beginnings in Tsakane, Ekurhuleni, Thabo was discovered by VUKA when he exploded onto the field for the Valke team in the 2015 Iqhawe Week and Legends Cup Tournaments at U15 level. The young flank went on to play in the 2016 Grant Khomo Week, 2017 and 2018’s Craven Week, and currently represents the U19 Valke Rugby Union team.

Now, Thabo will be joining the likes of Springbok U20 Rugby World Cup players, Celimpilo Gumede and Jaden Hendrikse in the national U19 team on their tour to Georgia in Eastern Europe towards the end of this year.

Thabo is a living success story whose talent may well have gone unnoticed, if not for SARLA’s rugby development programmes, VUKA and Iqhawe Week. After he was first spotted participating in SARLA’s 2015 VUKA Rugby programme, he was selected to represent the Valke at SARLA’s annual Iqhawe week – a national rugby tournament for U15 players. The tournament showcases talent from the various rugby unions’ development programmes and non-traditional rugby schools.

Thabo’s drive and dedication impressed both the Valke school selectors and the rugby coach from Hoerskool Hans Moore in Benoni. As a result, Thabo was offered a bursary to attend Hoerskool Hans Moore, plus a starting spot in the 2016 Valke Grant Khomo week team. Two Craven Weeks, a Legends Cup and one national championship later, Thabo has been called up by Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux to represent his country on the international stage.

Thabo will join the squad at the end of November in Cape Town for a training camp before they head off to Tbilisi, Georgia, for two matches against the Georgian U19 squad on 2 December and 5 December. Thabo will be in great company, as he’s part of a team that features six capped 2019 World Rugby U20 Championship play-ers.

CEO of SARLA, Stefan Terblanche said, “Thabo is living proof of what rugby devel-opment can do for young people who have the desire and determination, but often not the means, to make the best of their talent. We’ve been watching Thabo grow as a player since 2015 and we couldn’t be prouder of what he’s achieved. He’s a wel-come addition to the national team and we’re really looking forward to seeing him in action”.

SARLA’s VUKA initiative actively seeks out rugby talent like Thabo every year. The initiative was recently honoured at the Gauteng Sports Awards, where it was named the Community Sport and Recreation Programme of the Year for 2019. SARLA looks forward to discovering more inspiring talent like Thabo Ndimande and will continue to provide opportunities for a new generation of great players in years to come.

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