Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
FROM 7 to 9 April, youngsters drawn from schools in most parts of the country were given high level training by experts from South Africa during the AMG Global Falcon College Under-14 Rugby Coaching Festival.
In its second year, the festival saw five coaches from the Investec International Rugby Academy give expert guidance to children from local schools. Greg Miller, Marius Hurter, Jacques Botes, Nico le Roux and Michael Horak were the coaches who made it to the second edition of the rugby carnival. Hurter, a prop during his playing days who earned 13 won the 1995 Rugby World Cup with the Springboks, Miller is the Investec Rugby Academy general manager, Botes is a former KwaZulu-Natal loose forward, Le Roux is an ex-technical advisor to New Zealand while Horak is a past defence coach for English premiership side London Irish. The five worked with former Zimbabwe Sables coach, Brendan Dawson who is a consultant at Falcon.
This year, the number of participants doubled up from 140 in 2015 to 300 in 2016. Three primary schools were involved, these being, Whitestone, Barwick and Highlands. Falcon, Christian Brothers College, Churchill, Midlands Christian College, Getaway, Lomagundi, Northlea, Heritage and Hillcrest were the high schools which entered. CBC, Falcon and Lomagundi had their first teams also part of the fiesta but the seniors did not take part in full contact. Falcon and Lomagundi made use of the coaches from South Africa prior to heading off on tour to South Africa while CBC also got to work with the experts last Sunday.
What makes the festival stand out is that it is not only confined to playing the game. The youngsters get coached by the South Africans in the presence of their mentors in the morning and they play matches in the afternoon. The South African coaches as well as the local ones get to be present on the field of play during the matches which were this year played over three segments of 10 minutes. Players get to be coached as the matches progress, something that does not usually take place in other rugby festivals.
Orlando Fernandes, the tournament director said the idea behind the coaching festival came about at the planning stage last year when they found out that Churchill High School in Harare were also putting together something similar, hence they decided to make theirs different. According to Fernandes, Falcon College headmaster, Reginald Querl is the one who suggested that coaching be incorporated into the carnival.
“The whole idea behind the festival came because initially when we first started planning the tournament we had heard that Churchill were also doing a rugby festival for Under-14s, around about the same date so what we then decided is that we needed to change the emphasis a little bit, initially our idea was just to run a tournament, the Under-14 teams come play each other, play three matches then go. The idea actually came from Reg (Querl), I went to him and then he then suggested that we try doing a coaching festival so I liked that idea then I approached Investec and said this is what I want to do and they were happy to come on board, I then approached AMG with the concept and they liked it, that’s when our association with AMG started,’’ said Fernandes.
On the concept, Fernandes, a former national Under-14 assistant coach said they had to integrate the technical aspects of the game suitable for that particular age group.
“The whole idea is that all the training that the Under-14s do is basic skills which are suitable for Under-14s and then in the afternoons they get to see based on how they have been coached. Also you merge some tactical thinking and tactical positional play into the whole concept of the game so not only do they just learn the basic skills but they also learn how to merge it with the game and improve on it with the actually game situations,’’ he said.
Fernandes pointed out that the eventual objective is to play a part in advance the standard of rugby at school level in Zimbabwe which he believes can play a part in making better the standard of the game at a national scale.
“The immediate goal is that we trying to improve the standard of play amongst Under-14s, that can only benefit every school that’s involved, the long term plan is to obviously have mores schools doing it and again improving the standard of play across the board, I would also like to see more government schools so that across the board so that the level of competition improves because if that improves the state of senior rugby improves, that can only be good for Zimbabwe schools and the country eventually,’’ Fernandes said.
AMG Global, having been the main bankrollers of the inaugural edition last year remained as the title sponsors this year.
Fernandes expressed his gratefulness to the chartered accountants firm for their continued support because without them, there can be no festival. AGM Global are also sponsors of rugby and hockey festival at Barwick in Mutorashanga as well as a sports event at Peterhouse in Marondera.
“Without AMG, at the moment this tournament would not be possible at all, they cover the entire costs for the coaches and without that it would make the tournament unaffordable for everyone so therefore we wouldn’t be able to tap into the resources that South African rugby offers. I am really appreciative that AMG have been so willing and so enthusiastic from my point of view for this concept,’’ Fernandes said.
His dream is to grow the fiesta next year by including more schools from disadvantaged communities. This Fernandes believes is possible if he can secure more sponsorship to make the cost affordable to the participants in future.
Local youngsters as well as their coaches showed a lot of keenness with the South African experts bringing their energy to make it a memorable festival.