SA Rugby's most talented youngsters gather in Stellenbosch
SPOTLIGHT: The national junior rugby programme will resume after Easter with the intake of 36 promising players who will attend the SA Rugby Academy, based in Stellenbosch.
This year’s Academy, which is one of the key pillars in preparing the top junior players in the country to make the step-up to the SA Under-20 squad, will run from 19 April 19 to June 30 at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS).
The 2022 intake consists of a squad of 36 players – 24 U20s and 12 U19s – who have been invited to be part of the Academy, which again will be steered by Junior Springbok head coach Bafana Nhleko.
Twelve players who featured in last year’s group will return to the programme in Stellenbosch – Lukhanyo Vokozela (hooker), Lamla Nunu (prop), Corne Rahl (lock), Connor Evans (lock), Siya Ningiza (loose forward), Nico Steyn (scrumhalf), Bradley Davids (scrumhalf), Sacha Mngomezulu (flyhalf), Carlton Bannies (centre), Ethan James (centre), Curwin Gertse (centre) and Duran Koevort (fullback).
Players such as utility forwards Ruan Venter and Reinhardt Ludwig, as well as wing Canan Moodie, who are part of their respective United Rugby Championship squads, are set to join the Academy at a later stage.
In addition, three players – Henri Sieberhagen (lock), Imad Khan (scrumhalf) and Paul de Villiers (loose forward) – will join the squad intermittently for assessment and monitoring.
The programme, which was launched in 2017, aims to balance formal education with high-performance training and player welfare.
Thanks to the vital support from corporates through the Rugby Educational Foundation (REF) and Academy sponsors, Remgro (through the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport) and, over 224 players have participated in the project and received education bursaries to date.
According to SA Rugby CEO, Jurie Roux, the SA Rugby Academy is one of the cornerstones the local rugby pathway to bridge the gap between junior and senior level.
“The last two years have been challenging for obvious reasons, but we are thrilled that this group of talented players will soon be back in a high-performance environment,” said Roux.
“With a large focus of the programme also centering on education, the players will benefit on and off the field, which will certainly bode well for their futures.”
“We would like to extend a sincere thank you to the corporates who support our Rugby Educational Foundation, for making this possible and for investing in the future stars of the game.”
Junior Springbok coach, Bafana Nhleko, is equally pleased at the prospects of seeing the countries’ promising crop of young players returning to action later this month.
“We are happy to see a full rugby programme back on the cards after the 2020 programme was cancelled because of the pandemic, while schools’ rugby was also severely interrupted during the past two years,” said Nhleko.
“Last year we got together in a strictly controlled bubble environment and managed to play an international series against the U20 teams of Uruguay, Georgia and Argentina. We are looking to build on those foundations, and we are excited for the SA Rugby Academy to resume.”
The Academy plays an important role as part of a players’ journey in helping them develop their fundamental rugby skills, as well providing life skills, educational support and possible opportunities into junior international rugby and beyond.
Nhleko mentioned that there’s a good balance between Under-19 and Under-20 players in the current group, and that through the SA Rugby EPD (Elite Player Development) programme, they will continue to cast the net wide to scout for promising talent.
With this in mind, Nhleko added the door is not closed to the players who have missed out on the announced group.
“The U20 domestic competition in 2021 and 2022, as well as the Varsity Cup, gave us a good idea of the wider group and some players were very close to selection,” he said.
“Therefore, some were unlucky to miss out but we will continue to monitor the wider group and engage with coaches at the unions, universities and clubs to ensure that we track all the players in the system, and where possible, to present opportunities for them.”
The 2022 SA Rugby Academy squad:
Props: Lamla Nunu (WP), Corne Lavagna (Bulls), Phatu Ganyane (Sharks), Juann Else (Bulls), Corne Weilbach (WP), Sebastian Lombard (Bulls), Sivu Mabece (Bulls).
Hookers: Lukhanyo Vokozela (WP), Keagan Blackenberg (WP), Tiaan Lange (Bulls).
Locks: Corne Rahl (Sharks), Coetzee Le Roux (Sharks), Connor Evans (WP), Merwe Olivier (Bulls).
Loose forwards: Cameron Hanekom (Bulls), Armand Maritz (WP), Abulele Ndabambi (Bulls), Siya Ningiza (Sharks), Damon Royle (Sharks), Gcino Mdletshe (Bulls).
Scrumhalves: Nico Steyn (Lions), Bradley Davids (Sharks), Neil Le Roux (Bulls).
Flyhlaves: Sacha Mngomezulu (WP), Jean Smith (Sharks).
Centres: Carlton Bannies (Bulls), Suleiman Hartzenberg (WP), Ethan James (WP), Moemagare Motlhodi (Bulls).
Outside backs: Donovan Don (Griffons), Hakeem Kunene (Bulls), Curwin Gertse (Sharks), Matthew Jacobs (Sharks), Katlego Letebele (Bulls), Duran Koevort (WP), Latica Nela (SA Rugby Sevens contracted)