Ithembelihle aim for sustained success

The Ithembelihle Comprehensive School hopes that an award-winning 2012 season will lead to further success and growth in the coming years.

The school from the New Brighton township in Port Elizabeth had an outstanding year, and proved to be one of the best rugby schools in the Eastern Cape. Ithembelihle won seven straight matches following the Grey High rugby festival they attended in March, including all of their matches at the KwaZulu-Natal development tournament.

They also continued their dominance in their FNB Classic Clash against rivals Ndzondelelo High School, winning for the sixth year in a row and dismantled nearby Lukhanyo High 64-5 in their biggest win of the season. On 4 November, they won the School Team of the Year prize at the South African Sports Awards.

The man responsible for their rise to prominence is their passionate coach, Theo Pieterse. Pieterse has coached the team for over 30 years and has produced some outstanding players during his lengthy tenure, with very little at his disposal. He has also done much for the development of rugby in the townships surrounding Port Elizabeth. Under his tutelage, players like Solly Tyibilika, who went to nearby Loyiso High School, and current Pumas centre Siviwe Magaba, who attended Ithembelihle, have gone on to play provincial rugby. Tyibilika also went on to represent the Springboks.

The improvement the school made as a rugby team this year has earned them some well deserved recognition.

‘We had an excellent year in 2012, and because of it there are a lot of boys from all over the Transkei and Eastern Cape who want to come and play rugby for Ithembelihle,’ says Pieterse, who over the past couple of years has seen his team emerge as one of the best underprivileged schoolboy rugby teams in the country.

‘Many of the bigger schools in the region don’t want to play us because they will be embarrassed if they lose. One of the parents even said to me that they won’t have their child losing to a black kid from the township.’

Muir College, Despatch High and Daniel Pienaar Technical High School have all been beaten by Ithembelihle in the past. They haven’t played them again since.

Ithembelihle lacks any real rugby facilities. Their field is overgrown and has no lines, their change rooms are falling apart, and they don’t train with any modern equipment. Pieterse hopes that this will change in the future.

‘What I would like to see is the development of our facilities. I want a field that we can play home games on, I want a gym, better change rooms and supplementation for the boys. Give us these things, and I will give you a team that can challenge the best schools in the country.’

While that may seem like a bold claim, one can only imagine what a coach like Pieterse could do with a little more backing from those at the top of the rugby hierarchy. The Eastern Province Rugby Union has offered little help to their cause, choosing instead to focus all of the efforts on the newest Super Rugby franchise, the Southern Kings.

The fact that Grey High decided to invite Ithembelihle to their annual rugby festival in March is a testament to how far the school has come. They narrowly lost to Graeme College by a single try in their first match, and while HTS Louis Botha did beat them 24-0 in the second, they were by no means embarrassed.

More than anything, Pieterse hopes that the school will continue to develop and give the boys the opportunity to further their rugby careers. If it does, we may see more players like Tyibilka and Magaba emerging from the area.

‘With a little more support I have no doubt we can produce some fantastic players,’ said Pieterse.

By Michael Glanville-Smith