Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux opted for continuity in selection when naming the SA Rugby Academy squad on Wednesday, with 27 of the 45 players having featured in the SA Under-19 team last season, while 37 of them attended the SA Rugby alignment camps last month.
The group includes six capped World Rugby Under-20 Championship players in Celimpilo Gumede, Sibusiso Sangweni (looseforwards), Emile van Heerden (lock), Jaden Hendrikse (scrumhalf), Thabiso Mdletshe (prop) and Mnombo Zwelendaba (centre).
The SA Rugby Academy programme, which was launched in 2017, aims to balance formal education with high performance training and player welfare. Thanks to the vital support from corporates through the Rugby Education Foundation (REF) and Academy sponsors, Remgro (through the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport) and SuperSport, over 175 players have participated in the project and received education bursaries to date.
This year’s programme, which will again be steered by Roux and his Junior Springbok coaching team, will run from Thursday, 12 March, to mid-May. The squad will based at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport.
In line with the programme’s objective of ensuring holistic player development on and off the field, the goal is to have all the participants enrolled for various degrees, national diplomas, national certificates and short courses, which will be backed up by life skills and mentorship programmes and regular tutor sessions.
Only eight players in the group did not participate in the SA Rugby alignment camps, namely Asanda Kunene, Kabelo Mokoena (wingers), Jason Alexander (hooker), Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Thys Kitshoff (props), George Cronje, Uzile Tele (looseforwards), and Muzi Manyike (fullback). Tele and Manyike, however, were withdrawn due to injury.
Cronje and Wessels (both ASM Clermont Auvergne) are currently contracted to overseas clubs, while another overseas-based player Kade Wolhuter (flyhalf - Montpellier Hérault) was also invited to the Academy.
“These 45 players are among the best Under-19 and Under-20 players, and it gives us great pleasure to assist in their development both and off the field,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.
“In 2018, a total of 30 players participated in the programme and that was increased to 45 last year, and we are delighted that we can once again name a large squad. This is all thanks to our sponsors.
“I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the corporates who support our Rugby Education Foundation, as well as Remgro and SuperSport, for making this possible and for investing in the future stars of the game.”
Chean Roux looked forward to the SA Rugby Academy programme and said: “This is a talented group of players and I am excited that we will have the opportunity to work with them daily in the next three months.
“With a number of the players having represented the SA U19 team on our successful tour to Georgia late last year, and most of them having taken part in the alignment camps we hosted in February, we have a good foundation to build on.
“Some of the players are of course be new to the group, especially the likes of George and Jan-Hendrik, who have been plying their trade abroad in the last year, but they all came through our Elite Player Development (EPD) programmes and were in the South African rugby structures until last year, so we have no doubt they will slot in with ease.
“Most of the players in this group have progressed from the SA Rugby Under-16 to Under-18 EPD structures, and the fact that they have advanced to this level rubberstamps the effectiveness of our development pathway.”
SA Rugby Academy squad:
Props: Banele Mthenjane (Xerox Golden Lions), Dewald Donald (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Sphekahle Dube (Cell C Sharks), Hanro Jacobs (Cell C Sharks), Thys Kitshoff (DHL Western Province), Thabiso Mdletshe (Cell C Sharks), Wian Otto (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Jan-Hendrik Wessels (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
Hookers: Jason Alexander (DHL Western Province), Morne Brandon (Xerox Golden Lions), JJ Kotze (DHL Western Province), Cullen van der Merwe (Cell C Sharks)
Locks: Adrian Alberts (Xerox Golden Lions), Werner Coetzee (Cell C Sharks), Dylan De Leeuw (DHL Western Province), Lunga Ncube (Cell C Sharks), Emile van Heerden (Cell C Sharks)
Looseforwards: George Cronje (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Celimpilo Gumede (Cell C Sharks), Thabo Ndimande (Xerox Golden Lions), Keenan Opperman (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Evan Roos (Cell C Sharks), Sibusiso Sangweni (Xerox Golden Lions), Uzile Tele (Vodacom Blue Bulls)
Scrumhalves: Ross Braude (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Thomas Bursey (DHL Western Province), Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks), Bernard van der Linde (Vodacom Blue Bulls)
Flyhalves: Lionel April (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Jordan Hendrikse (DHL Western Province), Juan Mostert (DHL Western Province)
Centres: Diego Appollis (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Christie Grobbelaar (SA Rugby Sevens Academy), Rynhardt Jonker (Cell C Sharks), Dawid Kellerman (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Boitumelo Tsatsane (Xerox Golden Lions), Brenden Venter (DHL Western Province), Mnonbo Zwelendaba (DHL Western Province)
Outside backs: Stravino Jacobs (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Cohen Jasper (Toyota Free State), Richard Kriel (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Asanda Kunene (Cell C Sharks), Muzilikazi Manyike (Xerox Golden Lions), Kabelo Mokoena (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Sibabalwe Xamlashe (DHL Western Province)