Rugby development in Africa – the calling of the oval ball

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

RUGBY is undoubtedly one of the most popular sport codes in Southern Africa. The popularity of the sport of the oval ball in Southern Africa and the rest of Africa is growing by leaps and bounds. Rugby development in Africa has been driven primarily by the success of the South Africa Springboks in the World Cup Tournaments of 1995 and 2007.

Rugby is almost a religion amongst some folks in the Rainbow Nation. It unites the people of the country. It brings people together regardless of their age, gender, physical ability, race, socio-economic, ethnic or political background. Almost every small boy who gets introduced to the oval ball dreams of lifting the World Cup like Francois Pienaar or John Smit. It is indeed gratifying to note that South African rugby has produced excellent role models not just for young South Africans but many other youth in the region. The South African rugby replica jersey has indeed become one of the most sought after souvenirs not only in Southern Africa but throughout Africa.

One would have thought that the development of rugby in South Africa and the success of the Springboks   would rub off the Southern African neighbours. The formidable development structures that have been in put place in the country are such that South Africa is always going to have many conveyor belts feeding talent to the national team. When one looks at resources available to Australia, England, France, Wales or Scotland for rugby development as compared to South Africa, then the serious reality of the development of the game comes to light. It is no longer just a question of having colossal resources but rather how you utilize the limited resources that you have in an effective and efficient manner. Yes, money helps but it is not the only thing. Passion and commitment are some of the critical success factors that need to be considered. South Africans are definitely doing something right which cannot just be reduced to the availability of funds only.

What South Africa rugby lacks in material resources compared to their competitors is more than compensated for by the energy, enthusiasm and unparalleled pride that the Springboks have in representing their country wearing the green and gold. Even when the New Zealand All Blacks perform their  world-renowned war cry, the “Haka” which can even scare the daylights out of  the faint –hearted, South Africans always know that win or lose the “Mabhokobhoko” will give the opposition a good run for their money.

Other African rugby authorities especially those in Southern Africa can and should derive great inspiration from South Africa in order to develop teams that can also beat the Springboks. This will also strengthen South Africa as they will have to seriously compete in the region in order to qualify for the World Cup. The Springboks should not have a guaranteed slot for the various editions of the IRB World Cup. They should be made to fight for it. In that way when they get to the World Cup, they will have passed a rigorous test on the continent.

The development of the rugby is showing great promise on the African continent, especially with the Rugby Sevens version of the game which has taken East Africa by storm with Kenya and Uganda excelling tremendously. However, the jewel in the rugby crown continues to be the 15s version of the game. Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have got good rugby traditions and heritage. Most probably what is lacking is the developmental aspect in these three countries which have got great potential to challenge the Springboks for honours in the game of rugby in the future. There is therefore need for development of all aspects of the game in these countries ranging from coaches, referees and players to ensure that the game is available as a sport of choice at all levels, particularly in schools and colleges. Without the full development of the game in schools, it will be very difficult for these countries to position themselves to challenge the hegemonic dominance of South Africa in the game.

When it comes to the Rugby World Cup, it is also in South Africa’s interest to assist with the development of world class players in the rest of Southern Africa and by extension throughout the continent who can compete effectively with rest of the world. It is not good for the game in Africa if teams from the continent are going to the World Cup just to make up numbers. It should not be a foregone conclusion that other African countries are going to make an early exit at the tournament and we will be left with only South Africa to support. No doubt, every patriotic sport loving African would naturally support the Springboks but they need the burden and pressure of representing Africa removed from their shoulders to enable them to consistently perform to the best of their ability.

The Springboks have no doubt set very high standards for the development of the game in Africa. It is up to the rest of Africa to respond positively to this challenge. How the rest of Africa and particularly Southern Africa will rise to the occasion is entirely up to them, in terms of how the game is developed packaged and marketed. If the same resources and enthusiasm that is invested in soccer can also be extended to rugby, then Africa should witness some exciting times in the future. It would be a big achievement, a dream come true, if there can be another African country that can accompany the Springboks to the quarter-finals or even the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. As proud Africans and sport lovers we wait patiently for that day but in the meantime, we are still very proud to wear the green and gold at the World Cup, declaring our allegiance once and for all for the whole world to see. Who can forget the wonderful images of the great Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar at the victory ceremony of the 1995 World Cup or even Thabo Mbeki with Springboks at the Stade de France in 2007? The 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan is a tantalizing prospect for the Springboks. It would also be a great thing if South Africa could  host the Rugby World Cup again in 2023 and hopefully win it again. Viva Springboks, Viva! They are the pride of Africa.

May 2017
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