The national junior rugby programme will resume in April after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the SA Rugby Academy set to kick off in Stellenbosch.
The 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 Wednesday, 7 April until Wednesday, 30 June at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport.
A squad of 41 players – 22 U20s and 19 U19s – have been invited to participate in the Academy, which will be steered by Junior Springbok head coach Bafana Nhleko and his predecessor Chean Roux.
Four players in the U20 age group featured in the 2020 SA Rugby Academy squad – Jan-Hendrik Wessels (prop), Dylan de Leeuw (lock), George Cronje (No 8) and Kade Wolhuter (flyhalf).
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 SuperSport, over 184 players have participated in the project and received education bursaries to date.
In line with the programme’s objective of ensuring holistic player development on and off the field, the goal is to have all the participants enrolled for various degrees, national diplomas, national certificates and short courses, which will be backed up by life skills and mentorship programmes and regular tutor sessions.
“The SA Rugby Academy is one of the cornerstones in our rugby pathway to bridge the gap between junior and senior level, and we are thrilled that this group of talented players will be back in a high-performance environment,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie 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.
“I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the corporates who support our Rugby Educational Foundation, as well as Remgro and SuperSport, for making this possible and for investing in the future stars of the game.”
Nhleko was equally pleased to see the players return to action and said: “It has been just over a year since the SA Rugby Academy had to be put on hold due to COVID-19, so we are very grateful and excited about the opportunity to be back on the field.
“The Academy serves an important role in the holistic development of the players on and off the field, and it is also a key pathway through the national structures.”
He added: “There is a good mix of Under-19 and Under-20 players in the group with an eye on possible mid-year fixtures, and also to ensure that we can expose the Under-19 group to international rugby keeping next year in mind, so we are very happy for them.
“That said, the door is not closed to the players who have missed out. We will still be monitoring the players and talking to the 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.”
SA Rugby Academy squad:
Props: Blaine Golden (Cell C Sharks), Okuhle Siyeni (Xerox Lions), Tielman Nieuwoudt (Vodacom Bulls), Sibusiso Shongwe (Xerox Lions), Frederich Weilbach (DHL Western Province), Jan-Hendrik Wessels (Vodacom Bulls).
Hookers: Jacques Goosen (Cell C Sharks), Andre-Hugo Venter (DHL Western Province), Lukhanyo Vokozela (DHL Western Province).
Locks: Connor Evans, Dylan de Leeuw (both DHL Western Province), Reinhardt Ludwig (Vodacom Bulls), Simon Miller (DHL Western Province).
Loose forwards: George Cronje (Toyota Cheetahs), Wandile Hlophe (Xerox Lions), Keketso Morabe (DHL Western Province), Rynard Mouton (Vodacom Bulls), Siyemukela Ndlovu (Xerox Lions), Siyambuka Ningiza (Cell C Sharks), Jarrod Taylor (DHL Western Province), Sisonke Vumazonke (Xerox Lions).
Scrumhalves: Bobby Alexander (DHL Western Province), Bradley Davies (Cell C Sharks), Nico Steyn (Xerox Lions).
Flyhlaves: Sacha Mngomezulu (DHL Western Province), Brandon Wilkie (Cell C Sharks), Kade Wolhuter (DHL Western Province).
Centres: Carlton Bannies (Vodacom Bulls), Tyler Bocks (Xerox Lions), Nqobi Mkhize (Cell C Sharks), Canan Moodie (Vodacom Bulls), Zeilinga Strydom, Henco van Wyk (both Xerox Lions).
Outside backs: Dalvon Blood (SA Rugby contracted/DHL Western Province), Geraldo Flusk (Vodacom Bulls), Keane Galant (Vodacom Bulls), Curwin Gertse (Cell C Sharks), Matthew Jacobs (Cell C Sharks), Duran Koevort (DHL Western Province), Mtungwa Mapansela (Cell C Sharks), Keanan Wentzel (Vodacom Bulls).