The selection of five FNB NMMU-Madibaz players to represent South Africa in the World Rugby U20 Championship indicates that the university and Eastern Cape province are working hard to nurture young talent.
Jeremy Ward, the centre, will captain the Junior Boks, with number eight Junior Pokomela appointed as one of his two deputies for the tournament in England from June 7 to 25.
Also on the team are hooker Tango Balekile, fullback Keanu Vers and prop Nicolaas Oosthuizen.
“Student athletes can clearly see we are capable of grooming local talent that is extremely competitive on the national stage.”
Awu said the players’ selection illustrated that it was possible to study while still competing at the highest level, ensuring balanced development.
It was a close working relationship between Madibaz Sport and the Kings Academy, under former Springbok Robbi Kempson, that had played a key role in the identification and development of local talent.
“Robbi has a great eye for talent and brings the best in the region to the university.”
Awu said the recruitment and subsequent training and development of the youngsters was done in conjunction with head coach David Maidza, who took care of them when they represented the Madibaz.
In 2015, many of the institution’s players were part of the Eastern Province team who won the U19 Currie Cup title under the captaincy of Ward.
Awu said the academy and university have a joint venture with regards to the development of the student athletes.
“The focus is on recruiting talented rugby students who are academically sound, to ensure they have something to fall back on after their playing careers.”
Awu said that at the academy, in addition to the mentorship of Robbi Kempson, the players benefit from the guidance of Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and Southern Kings assistant coach Barend Pieterse.