Saru to launch transformation initiative

With the backing of the National Lottery and Department of Sport and Recreation, Saru plans to launch a major Academy Project that has the potential to dramatically increase the opportunities for black players.

Fikile Mbalula, the Minister for Sports and Recreation, announced a Saru pilot initiative to open four rugby academies within the Eastern Province, Border, South Western Districts and Boland Rugby Unions. The plan is dependent on the release of funding by the National Lottery.

Saru hopes to induct 120 young players into the academies across the Eastern, Southern and Western Cape regions. They will receive expert coaching as well sports science, dietary and supplementation support. They will play for the age group teams of their unions and ‘graduate’ at the age of 21.

‘We are hopeful of confirming this major Saru initiative in due course,’ said Oregan Hoskins, the president of Saru. ‘It has the potential to break significant, new ground and will help address our long-standing concern over the drop off in black player numbers between schools and professional rugby.

‘The programme will also equip young players with the life skills to manage their careers and its demands in a way that was clearly and so tragically absent in the life of Solly Tyibilika.

‘But, in its basics, it is about levelling the playing field and giving talented young players the chance to compete with their peers on an equal footing.’

Hoskins warned however that the academy initiative would remain stalled without extended backing. Saru hopes to confirm details in the new year.

The project is planned to start with a grant of R35m by Lotto. The application was made in September 2010 and Saru hopes to receive the written confirmation in the very near future. Funding beyond the first year is still being sourced but Mbalula said he would support Saru’s application for funding on a continuous basis.

The academies will use existing facilities to concentrate spending on player development. Each academy will have a full-time staff of six and a part-time doctor. Players will spend 40 weeks of the year at the academy and will, in addition, pursue further education programmes.

Hoskins said that although creating new Springboks was desirable, the focus of the academies was more fundamental.

‘Let’s not have any illusions,’ he said. ‘These academies are not expected to be new “Springbok conveyor belts”. We are not in competition with the metropolitan unions for young players and those unions will continue to select and recruit the very best emerging players from all communities.

‘But there are a large number of talented young players who show outstanding potential but then fail to make the cut for reasons of conditioning and nutrition as much as skill and ability. These academies will go some way to addressing that issue by providing a safety net.’

Saru is pursuing plans to open five further academies across the country. An application for two further academies – at the Griffons and Valke provincial unions – was not successful at the first attempt.