Junior Springbok coach Bafana Nhleko and Springbok prop Frans Malherbe left the field encouraged after a contact training session between the SA Rugby Academy and the DHL Stormers in a sunny Stellenbosch on Tuesday.
The SA Rugby Academy squad got their field training block off to an exciting start with the forwards and backs splitting up for unit sessions against the DHL Stormers.
They stepped things up later in the day with the teams going head-to-head in a training session.
“I’m very pleased,” said Nhleko.
“Obviously we haven’t had a lot of contact as we have been integrating the players into it slowly.
“Today we came up against a top side, and although it wasn’t a full game, it was good for the players to have this experience and to see how professional senior teams such as the Stormers operate. It was also good for the boys to get in some body hits.”
Nhleko elaborated saying: “It was great for the players to see the speed at which the game is played and also how a simple mistake can be punished at this level, and in terms of the game, to see how to organise yourself as a team when you are in pressure situations.
“So for us it is was great learning experience. Obviously part of this exercise was preparation, but in general it was good for the guys to learn and to play at this pace and intensity.”
Malherbe, who has assisted at a few unit sessions with the Academy forwards in the last two weeks, was pleased to be in the thick of things on the field on Tuesday.
“It was really good for us to face proper opposition during training in a match week as we prepare for the PRO14 Rainbow Cup SA game on Saturday (against the Vodacom Bulls at Cape Town Stadium),” said the Rugby World Cup winning prop, who was also encouraged by the U20 players’ progress in the last few weeks.
“These players are very talented, and it was a good showcase of rugby. It is a big honour and a privilege to work with such a talented bunch of players. I have really enjoyed seeing them grow in their roles in the last few weeks in the training sessions I have been part of.
“What stood out for me was the improvement between the first and last session I attended, and that is a very good sign of the quality of the players.”
With the SA Rugby Academy squad steadily reaching their desired level of training after following the stipulated return to play protocols since assembling in April, Nhleko was confident that the squad was on the right track.
“We are still on our way from a conditioning perspective, and from a game point of view this was the first time we faced opposition of this quality and were put under pressure.
“We are still a way off from where we want to be, but I’m really pleased with the effort and the improvements they are showing.
“It has been nice to train with most of the squad members joining from the FNB Varsity Cup and credit to Chean (Roux) for getting the forwards up to speed on the detail.
“Some of these boys were at school when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup and today, they got to have a session with some of their heroes.”