The four South African Rugby Union Academies, established late last year in Border, Eastern Province, South Western Districts and Boland and funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF), have been hailed as a success at the end of their first season of operation.
Five out of the eight positions in the knock-out phases of the Absa Currie Cup Under-21B and Under-19B competitions were filled by teams featuring players of SARU’s Academy Programme. Eastern Province was crowned champions in the Absa Under-21 and Under-19 B-Divisions this year after winning their finals in Nelspruit.
In their respective finals the EP U21s – unbeaten in the league phase and knock-outs in 2013 – beat their Boland counterparts by 59-19, while the EP U19s were too strong for the junior Valke, winning their final by 56-40.
In the U19 B-Division, Boland and South Western Districts made it to the semi-finals before being eliminated from the competition.
“The performances of these teams this season is testament of the commitment and hard work that was done in those provinces, which are crucial in our identification and development of talented young players,” said SARU CEO Jurie Roux.
“It was superb to see how the Academies and the provinces co-operated this year and I believe that is one of the many reasons why they were so successful. I’m confident we’ll see the positive effect at a higher level in the next couple of seasons.”
According to Mervin Green, SARU’s General Manager for Development, a total of R18 million was invested in equal portions across the four Academies this year. He also lauded SARU’s High Performance Mobi-Unit for the key role they played in ensuring the Academies had a good start in 2013.
“Our return on investment in the first year was massive and we really got off to a very positive start this year,” said Green.
“We’re planning to increase this in the coming years as we aim to roll out the SARU Academy programme across all 14 provincial unions. We could already see in 2013 what a difference it made helping these players by improving the quality of their facilities and coaching, while we also focus on things like conditioning, injury treatment and rehabilitation, mentoring, nutrition, tertiary studies, life skills and good accommodation.
“Our aim is to ultimately help create a fully professional rugby player. On the long term, we’re aiming to produce 70 professional black players in the next four years, of which 25 will hopefully go on to play in Vodacom Super Rugby in five years’ time and by 2019, we’d like to see eight new black Springboks emerge from the Academy programme.”
Rassie Erasmus, SARU GM for High Performance, said: “The feedback we’ve received on the involvement of the Mobi-Unit has been very good. We worked with all four Academies at least twice this year and were very well received. It was also good to interact with the coaches there.”
According to Charl Crous, Eastern Province CEO, 19 of the 30 players currently enrolled at the Academy had played for their U21 team, which had gone through the entire season undefeated and had narrowly missed out on being promoted to A-division after losing to Border in the playoff.
Nine Academy players represented the EP U19s this year, which won the ABSA U19 competition and secured promotion to the A-division in 2014 after defeating Border in the promotion/relegation playoff last week.
“There can be no doubt that the Kings Academy has played a significant role in the identification, development and retention of young up and coming players from the region,” said Crous.
“The support and commitment from SARU, through their partnership with the Academy, has played an integral part in the successes achieved.”
Willie Smal, CEO of Boland, said the SARU Academy allowed his union to retain a lot of the young talent in their province and made a massive difference in their junior teams’ results this year.
“The biggest positive impact the Academy made in the Boland, was the good performances by our U19 and U21 teams in their provincial competitions, with both qualifying for the playoff rounds and showing a massive improvement from 2012,” said Smal.
“Out of our group of 30 Academy players, a total of 28 played for our junior teams, while Ashley Esau played one Vodacom Cup match for the senior team and a couple of players also trained with our senior Absa Currie Cup team.”
SWD CEO Johan Prinsloo lauded the programme and said 19 Academy players featured for the Eagles at U19, U21, Vodacom Cup and Absa Currie Cup level this year.
“It was great to see so many players come through and gain valuable experience on the playing field,” said Prinsloo.
“We’ve not only given them opportunities to play, but because our Academy is situated on the George campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the players also got the opportunity to study.”