The Springboks ended their Eastern Cape World Cup trophy parade yesterday amid some of the most emotional scenes seen since winning the tournament, writes PETROS AUGOUSTI.
There was special significance for some of the Boks, who hail from the region, and images of teenagers crying with joy hit social media, with one Dale College pupil showing how emotional the roller-coaster Japanese sojourn has been for the rugby-mad province.
The Eastern Cape holds much symbolism regarding the development of the sport over the past 50 years. Siya Kolisi returned to the humble beginnings of the Zwide township, where he grew up and cut his teeth on the sport.
Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am were also accorded cult status, as they both hail from the region, and together with captain Kolisi are now regarded as some of the world’s finest players.
A few weeks back, a band of trailblazing youngsters retraced the footsteps of the Kolisi and company with a thrilling visit to the area, and the VUSA Rugby Academy spent a week in the mountains, the rural villages and played a match at the Dan Qeqe Stadium, against Kolisi’s old team, African Bombers.
Little did they know at the time (they started touring as the Boks embarked on their World Cup quest) that six weeks later the very same ground the walked on would be blanketed with tens of thousands of supporters celebrating arguably the most important RWC win for the Boks.
The VUSA Academy is based in Langa and have been turning heads in the Western Cape for close to 15 years, and recently the team has been enjoying success on the field, as well as in the classrooms and through excellent mentorship programmes and world-class coaching.
The next Kolisi, or Mapimpi or Am could come from the ranks of Langa, with the VUSA team enjoying a stellar 2019 season. They played at the prestigious Paarl Boys Rugby Day, an enclave for schoolboy giants, and finished the tournament with the highest accolades, winning the U11 team of the tournament.
It was fitting that after a tremendous year of overcoming challenges that most rugby players in the country do not have to endure, that they returned to one of the regions with the most historical meaning in terms of developing black players of world-class origin – all from equally challenging communities.
The seriousness of the moment was not lost on Brendan Fogarty, the rugby master at Bishops Prep School, as the knowledgeable and passionate head of Xhosa at the prestigious school has been intimately involved in the development of the VUSA programme.
‘The symbolic nature of the tour was not lost on me, not the team of coaches, many of whom hail from the region. Our head coach at VUSA, Mak Khala is a Dale College old boy and he battled to control his emotions as he took the boys to the heart of rugby,’ says Fogarty, who attended the tour, and took the boys from the mountains of the Eastern Cape all the way to Zwide.
‘We are so proud of the Bokke and Kolisi, who is a VUSA brand ambassador, as the team really did something historic and has given renewed hope to our 200-plus players in Langa.
‘For us to tour the Eastern Cape during the World Cup was fortuitous as we got to share in history as it was unfolding,’ he added.
Mak Khala, the head coach and Dale old boy, was similarly moved. ‘The tour was not only an excellent opportunity to gauge how far we have come as players, but also to give our boys a taste of history,’ he said.
‘I got emotional when I saw the youngsters on tour, interacting with players from the rural areas, and how they stood up to the challenges of playing at the Qeqe Stadium in Zwide,’ he added.
The tour was not about results but more about learning, and growing as youth, heading into uncertain futures. The Langa boys know they have unheard-of challenges to make it out of there area alive and gang free, let alone play for the Boks.
The Bishops-run VUSA programme offers not only rugby, but education, mentorship and hope.
Other brand ambassadors include Bok players Scarra Ntubeni and former VUSA graduate Sikhumbuzo Notshe and with such a world-class team of industry greats will go some way in making the programme more appealing, not just to the players but to corporate backers, who can make a difference at the very basest of grassroots. Just watching the team take on Paarl Boys, Bishops, Rondebosch and Paarl Gym, not only provides goose-bump moments, but helps underline the future of the sport is in good hands.
Brand ambassadors will play a huge role in attracting corporate backing and while he is inundated with the world’s media attention, when it settles down a bit, the Bok skipper will realise how far his VUSA team has come along.
The tears, the raw emotion, ubuntu, mass celebrations and the bringing together of the rainbow nation at least give these boys a better chance at getting out of poverty and into the real world.
‘We know that the Boks winning the World Cup, and with such a diverse squad, will no doubt raise the awareness of programmes such as VUSA and if we really want to become a long-term dominant force in world rugby, we need to utilise every player in the country,’ concluded Fogarty.