South Africa have selected eight players from national champions TUKS Rugby League Club in Guateng for the inaugural Rugby League Commonwealth Championship at the end of this month in Scotland. TUKS are based at the University of Pretoria and field two sides – the first team Reds in the Rhino Cup and second team Blues in the Protea Cup. They have won the Rhino Cup twice in a row.
There are players from four other clubs in their 13-man squad for the Under-19 Nines tournament, with players originating from afar afield as Mpumalanga, Western Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal. TUKS second rower Dwayne Botma may become the first Paraguayan-born rugby league player to appear at a major international tournament.
South Africa are relatively inexperienced and young compared to some squads but make up for that in size. TUKS prop Christo Lategan, aged 18, weighs in at 116kg while his club and Rhinos team-mate 6ft 3in forward Glen Rademan, aged 19, is over 100kg.
The South African squad is hard at work getting ready for the Commonwealth Championships. They has been facing several challenges, with the biggest the constant refusal for the South African Sport Commonwealth and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) to even recognize rugby league as a sport.
“This has serious implication, the toughest that we don’t qualify for funding from the government,” explained liaison officer Chris Botes. “The funding for the tour has to come from the players themselves, SARL and other private sponsors. To add to the challenges, several of the players are from previously disadvantaged areas, and to even get to practice is sometimes not possible due to lack of funding, transport and also basic support systems. In spite of the challenges, the management team was able to hold trials in three different regions – Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Western Cape.”
An initial training group of 40 players has been whittled down to a squad of thirteen players. While South Africa can take 15 players, the funding required is not available. The Rhinos XIII are training together in regional training groups on a weekly basis.
“It’s important to realize that South Africa is five times bigger than the UK and some of the players are 2000km away from the training camps,” says Botes. “Once a month they get together at a national training camp and train together as a squad. Some players drive up to 400 miles return just to make practice. Since quite a few are still in school, or first year students, many a weekend had to be sacrificed. It’s a challenge juggling studies, exams and training schedules. Each and every player must be applauded for his commitment to the game.”
South Africa squad: Enzo Bernardo, Dwayne Botma, Bertus Coetzer, Edwin Dinnematin, Ian Engelbrecht, Christo Lategan, Frederick Swanepoel (all TUKS), Glen Rademan, Uli Sulelo (both Cape Buccaneers), Damian Bezuidenhout (Tigers), Keagan Fortune (Macassar Spartans), Ruaan Du Preez (Ermelo).