Liz McGregor offers food for thought on one of the reasons standing in the way of transformation – food.
Article by Boertjie
FOREWORD: I’ve been reading Liz McGregor’s very recent book “Touch, Pause, Engage!” She took three years of research and travelled far and wide to report on the game from a woman’s perspective.
The book received enthusiastic reviews and I can recommend it. What follows here is my selected abbreviation of a few pages in which she sets out the problems faced in the Eastern Cape – the home of black rugby.
In the winter of 2010 I made a trip to the Eastern Cape. Dale College u.13 had beaten Bishops 54-0.
Given the huge discrepancies in resources between wealthy, independent Bishops and state-run Dale, this was a remarkable result. The question was: What happens to these boys?
Ex-Bishops boys can be found at every level of professional rugby, but there are only one or two Daleans. The vast majority just don’t make it beyond school. Given their obvious talent, why not?
I thought it was particularly intriguing in the light of the fact that Dale is in the Eastern Cape, the heartland of black rugby, the one province where rugby is more popular than football. (RW Note: The EC does not even have a team in the NSL A-league after Bay United was relegated.)
It is also the province from which the Bulls and the Sharks recruit many of their black players.
King William’s Town, home to Dale Junior and its big brother, had 30,000 white residents in 1980, now there are 4,500. Many of the villas are now owned by black people.
The acting principal of Dale Junior is a young white woman, Pat Thatcher. The colour of the boys has changed since 1994: it is now 90% black. There are 500 of them, and almost all of them play rugby. Two thirds of them come from single parent homes. A lot are brought up by their moms, and their coach is like a father to them.
Pat finds this an amazing tool for instilling discipline. “If we have any disciplinary problems, the most effective threat is to say: ‘We’ll tell your rugby coach.’ Parents do it as well: ‘We will take away your rugby.’ ”
Dale Senior is still run on the English public school lines. Their matric pass rate is 98%. Some 90% of the pupils are black. They struggle with their school fees of R3,500 a term. Only 40% goes back on holiday to two parents.
Racial transformation also had its financial impact. The old boys are mostly white. They don’t send their sons to Dale, don’t identify with its rugby teams nor do many contribute to its coffers – unlike in St. Johns, Bishops or the Afrikaans state schools like Affies, Paul Roos or Paarl Gim.
All Dale has is great natural rugby talent and passion.
I put my question to three coaches: “If Dale u.13 beat Bishops 54-0, why don’t they go on and dominate rugby like Bishops, Affies or Paarl Boys’ High?”
Simple, they said. They don’t get enough to eat.
Their daily diet is bread, three times a day. Their families are poor and they basically just eat starch: bread and some samp and beans, They get hardly any of the protein needed to build muscle, particularly at this crucial adolescent growth phase.
When they play the Afrikaans team, the guys are 10 kg heavier, which is big in rugby.
“The boys do an hour gym and two hours of rugby and then go home to a supper of starch, so it doesn’t assist their growth. We have great talent and flair, but to be successful, you’ve go to be ranked in the top 20 schools every year. If they had nutritional support for our boys, we could do that,” one of the coaches summed it up.
“The boys’ only real hope is to get noticed by the Bulls or the Sharks and land a contract with them. That is every boy’s dream, but only one or two a year are chosen.”
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
What they would really like to do is to get the promising players into the hostel because there they are fed a balanced diet, but that means an additional R14,000 each year.
Dale also runs a Border zonal u.15 day, which means they also scout the village schools. To get the talented ones to Dale will cost at least R28,000 annually per boy.
And now that the Border Rugby Union – that pathetic excuse for a provincial union – has finally collpased, why is no one else stepping into the breach?
There is so much talk about developing the black talent that everyone knows is abundant in the Eastern Cape and they can’t even put it together to make sure thes boys get enough to eat!
All those crucial, elusive elements are in place at Dale: talent, passion, infrastructure. All they need is food, which takes a bit of organisation, perhaps corporate sponsorship or development funding.
So simple and so fundamental.
RW POST SCRIPT: Poor diet also brought the fast bowler Mfuneko Ngam’s career to an end – His frame is just to ‘brittle’ to endure the stresses.
Boland has over the last decade produced several outstanding players. I am told
that coloured players have an advantage when it comes to diet, and that most of these players were enrolled and fed well in Boland House, the union’s academy, at a youngish age.