Border Rugby – its future and past Part 1


Our new columnist Benedict Chanakira takes a look at Border’s past with a view to the future.




Border Rugby Union has been in the media for humbling defeats and race rows that never seem to end. The whipping boys of the ABSA Currie Cup First division; having only won a handful of games in the last couple of seasons. Fans would console themselves after heavy losses on many occasions, as the Border senior team was means for opposition to acquire four-try bonus points.

I have looked into the history of the Union the founding fathers of the Currie cup itself. The Union has been in turmoil. They have regressed since the days of winning the Vodacom Shield in 2003. It has become a team that has no title sponsor, training facilities and only a handful of quality players. Lets’ not deceive ourselves the region has quality players who have been bred there; in the form of Allan Dell, Siya Kolisi, and JJ Engelbrecht, to mention a few.

These are players that could have represented either Border or Eastern Province Kings. Now the question that comes to mind is where is it going wrong? Clearly the talent is unattracted by the mess in the province and is lured away to other unions.

The current squads at the Bulldogs, according to performances, looked worse than most club rugby sides. They showed a lack in basic skills, no game plan, poor defense and no creativity. This team was in shambles and at this rate, by 2010, they should have been extinct.

An academy was then established in the region, previously called the Zululand Rugby Academy now Border Rugby Academy in 2011. This was a big boost for junior rugby and this could in turn impact the senior ranks. Their aim was to have the majority of players be black and colored players in order to develop their talent.

The under 19s and under 21s, who previously had been struggling in the B division of the Currie Cup, were promoted to the A-division by 2012. The sides have been battling against the ‘big unions’ but the progress and rebuilding is a long term process and not a once off. This also coincided with a change in management in the senior ranks as well. Paul Flanagan was brought in and realized he had to start from scratch. He had to rebuild a fallen empire…

To onlookers and fans, Border was dead. It needed cash injection, fresh ideas, players and a new vision. It required a patient management. Positively however, the Union president and the board of directors were fully behind fixing and restoring pride and competitiveness at Border Rugby. But the question lingered, was this task even possible?

This was the situation: A club Province that had no protocol at all, no professional structures in place, no organised record keeping and no discipline measures. Conditioning was not planned and players only had access to a Strength and Conditioning coach approximately for 2 hours a week.this has a huge negative effect on player perfomance. Coaches were not able to determine player progress in any department. Basic skills where missing, which at this level, is unacceptable. Scenarios where professional players showed poor technical work when passing, catching, kicking and tackling; was a clear and a blatant sign of poor structures.

The coaching staff that was present were not qualified enough for a job of this demand. This was outragious, and highlighted just how much was needed to be done. Limited funds, sponsors and a lack of public support; very few changes could be expected until October 2013 when Flanagan onboard as a contractor could only apply for the job officially and control the necessary aspects that warranted performance, it was a huge ask. The other coach was still on a payroll at home.

He thus adopted a squad that by the start of the 2012 season had seen them lose eighteen players. Some through retirement, some being released from contracts due to not reaching Currie Cup standards; and others who had simply requested to join other unions.

With one look at the squad he had been given, Flanagan was shocked. There was a gulf in quality between the u21s, club and professional players. Apathy saw a lack of attendance after the first meeting ; which resulted in measures being put in place to close the gap between the u21s, club and proffesional set ups.

Little enthusiasm from the amateur sector to help the local players develop resulted in only two clubs requesting the aid of the professional coaches. Border struggled in Pauls’ first season, with only 34 players, of which only six were seasoned at this level; another six needed experience and another three had niggling injuries. The balance was just out of their depth. In his first season Border finished bottom, losing all 14 of their games. Having the second worst defense in the league, all that could be worked on was attacking structures. This resulted in bonus points for tries and finishing within 7 points, which kept them positive. However, compared to the previous seasons they were still in a very deep valley. The clean up had begun but it was nowhere easy with a new coach, new philosophies and new goals. Border was finally under much needed construction.

Border had to get players. The players they had lacked experience in key positions. They had no recognisable number 2, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, kicker or assistant coach. Reinforcements were added at the end of the season, but not all of the players that the coach had decided on. The squad still lacked tactical decision makers with Currie Cup experience. Budget constraints; saw opportunities given to club and Varsity cup players that had potential but needed a lot of coaching. Work ethic was the first requirement. With all the constraits, Paul Flanagan and his team continued to work with what they had in order to make progress in the season to come.

There was a sense of positivity surrounding the 2013 season, along with a few new faces in the side and the contracting of six new players from the u21 Junior ranks. Of the six, only two were either capable or had potential to play Currie Cup rugby immediately. They lacked flyhalf options and had no quality kicker in the side. The severity of the situation saw the team lose close games, as a result of missed kicks. The sourcing of the players was done by the coaching staff in the off season, but Union directors wouldn’t sanction it due to either race or money.

This was something that affected the side in the 2012 and 2013 season. It’s like imagining a Springbok side without Morne Steyn.

This cost the team 6 games within 7 points; and an added 24 points which could have had them make the play offs. All credit must go to the players and their leaders. The 2013 season has shown character within this outfit, despite all the off fields battles. Games that spring to mind which showcased the character were the fixtures against the top sides Pumas and the Eastern Province Kings. They have grown into a team that can hold their own and have come a long way. Do not get me wrong, they are still far from being anything like the Pumas; but they are now a rugby side. The coaching staff has put in a lot of work and has laid a foundation. Finally, Border has something to build on and undoubtedly is starting to reap the rewards.

The teams’ win percentage of 28, 5% is the highest it’s been since 2004. This has seen Border haul themselves from the bottom of the log up to seventh and boasting the third best defense in the league. Change was inevitable and growth was optional. Surely the staff where on the right track? Whether or not the union will offer the management contracts to continue this rebuild, is still uncertain.

In Part 2 our series Benedict visits Border to see for himself what the plans for the future are.

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  1. A very intelligent piece looking at the recent past of the union. Considering that in 1949 this side produced Springbok skipper Basil Kenyon who lead the side to glory over Fred Allen's New Zealanders and and unbeaten 1951 Grand Slam tour the union appears to have indeed fallen on tough times. Is there hope for the future? Stick around and find out what Benedict Chanakira found out.

  2. How can this be a fair and true reflection of Border Bulldogs when your columnist clearly appear to have taken a subjective look at things. Since when was former Border Coaches Andre Human (who played and coached in SA and Ireland) and David Dobela (coached at Sharks, Stormers, SA Women, SA U-21, Uganda National Team) were under qualified? He seems to be oblivious or amnesiac to the fact that Border was Paul's first professional coaching job from a club…how can he be a much more experienced coach than these guys? How can 3 victories in two seasons be a good enough benchmark to justify a contract renewal? He intentional leave us hanging from saying, "Their aim was to have the majority of players be Black and colored players in order to develop their talents", he does not finish this by telling us if this was ever the end product because he knows that the opposite (more White players) is the case. Since when is Siya Kolisi and JJ Engelbrecht from Border? This is absolute rubbish that is only here to position certain individuals and tarnish image of individuals that work hard to get things right at Border. Benedict Chanakira I'm dissapointed at your lousy attempt to position Paul for a contract renewal!

  3. There is no bias. I have looked at things the way they are. The media has painted a picture of racism, and all other incidents. They have not mentioned one thing about the coaching staff, players or their season.

    The part on coaching staff was in reference to those who remained behind. Border was a laughing stock. An gateway for 5 points under that regime albeit. It would take a fool not to notice the change. Yes I was aware it was the starting point for Flanagan. I didn’t realise Heyneke Meyer started off at the Blue bulls.

    This side has some structure and I remember a commentator on SS saying they seem to see structure when the Bulldogs play for the first time in years. Kolisi, JJ are from the Border-EP region. they are all incorporated with SWD Eagles.

    Lungisa you clearly don’t know the difference between an annual report and a look in at the last few years on Border Bulldogs. I went out to find out about

  4. Benedict thanks a lot for your response my brother. Taking nothing away from your efforts to bringing to the fore what you term, "things the way they are", I think you a did not do a thorough job of it. Yes, things are not good at Border and the current Executive is trying its best to address them. Bulldogs had a good season in 2008 under coach Humphrey Nojoko when they won four games in that season with predominantly club players. So, you'll understand that Pauls 3 victories in 2 seasons counts for nothing when compared to that. IAnd also your locating Bulldogs last good season to 2003 is also not true as indicated above. I'll also be interested in knowing the source of your "28,5% win statistic since 2004" as that is questionable to me. The fact of the matter is that Paul took over from Andre Human who was chased away by Paul's friend, Killian, who brought the Zululand Academy to Border. Now, let me ask you, how mush do you know of Andre Human as a coach? Anyway, I think a much more deeper focus on getting the views of previous coaches, administrators and even clubs would have helped you in getting to the bottom of your project. Oh by the way, maybe you played or coached or administered rugby in Border hence your in-depth knowledge of the region. which school/club in Border did you play for?

  5. This utter rubbish….paul this paul that…excuse me….where is the developement part in this…talking abwt the zululand academy….Border region is renowned for grooming black talent..the very same paul did nothing for our club rugby players…its a slap in da face…mind u there are problems within the border administration,,but going on a praise and worship abwt one individual is clearly one sighted…we want fair and objective reporting…not praise singing!!!..funny why yor past present and future tense only starts where it suits you…

  6. This article is baseless and lack objectivity…a lot leaves to be desired…its like a praise song for Paul Flanagan..its questionable why former coaches in the recent Border history is not mentioned..its a slap in the face for aspiring club rugby players reading this article…a coach that careless for home grown talent…its a well known fact that this region boast the best black talent…do u see them anywhere in Pauls team…instead he buys mediocre players from other provinces…3 win in 2 season…my word!!! Its a known fact that the only reason why an unqualified club coach was chosen by the killians ahead of our own coaches in Elliot Fana,Dobela, Dakuse and the list goes on…Border administration do hv they problems, but please!!!!give us something credible please!

  7. Unfortunately I am not so much in tune with Border Rugby, at least questions is raised and problems identified, lets just hope we have rugby people and not business men or politicians using the union for other than to promote the game.

    It is easy to fall in a mode of aahh who cares? People in the union is responsible for the welfare of the union. From what a hear SARU do give more money these day to the so called smaller unions, we just need people in charge who can take that and invest in the local players.

    SA Rugby needs all its 14 unions to be a strong unit. Eastern Cape Rugby needs to be able to develop and keep their talent which will make the unions stronger.

    This me hoping this do starts to happen.

  8. Where was he 2003??? where was he when border gained premier under 21 statues under David Dobela??? where was he when Border had 5 players of colour selected for Boks A to tour the UK? hemadoda ndiyabuza ngumntu waphi na lo uthetha umgodo?

  9. Grass please take this person to school of EC rugby. clearly he doesnt know what he is talking about… talking about academies. where was he in the days on All Stars??? ngumntu waphi na lo???

  10. Talk about Border and you mention players from PE?? do you know Zolani Mofu Lubabalo Luba Mzwakali Sam Willard, Luvo Sogidashe Sinethemba Zweni Tiger MangweniLungelo Payi Vusumzi (Bebe) Lubabalo Mtimka??? ngumntu waphi nalo madoda????

  11. Yes we are hoping for change. To wrap this up; which I doubt I will. Flanagan was only the CC coach. Thus by that percentage(28.5) he was the highest among all other coaches. He wasn’t even the head coach as the previous coach was still on a pay roll.

    Also to be noted is that as how the previous coach had nothing to do with the current coach. It is not de villiers’ fault that White was not offered a contract beyond the WC in 07.

    I know Border have started to show a rise, despite all the drama, media negativity and lack of backing from the fans. The use of the race card is utter stupidity.

    I know the man, I’ve met all the staff members at Border currently, the players from u19 up to the seniors and inquired about all these issues. There was a sense of familyhood and growth.

    I have been part of a handful of their sessions this year and I got to know, see and understand some of the happenings. To call Flanagan a racist ends the argument in the fact that these are outsiders who don’t know or have ever interacted with the coach.

  12. Benedict, I'm confused now. Who called tFlanagan a RACIST here or on these comments? is there something you keeping from us? I agree you talked to the coach, his staff and players, U-19, and U-21 surely that's the team but is that enough to make conclusions and findings about a province? have you talked with Border Rugby Union, at least?

  13. Yes I did, and that is where I got all the information. I just worked with the facts. They spoke about players being dropped etc; and I personally feel it was more a case of the players not being up to Currie Cup standards than of not choosing black club players.

    One of the big accusations pointed out. However; let’s wait and see what happens to Border. Blessings to all.

  14. Benedict I suggest you pull this baseless article. Clearly you did not do your homework and you coming from outside of the Border region you can be forgiven.

  15. Let me get this right Benedict, you dismissed comments and input from the highest office in the province and yet you publish an article that label allegations against them? Where do you base things such as the 'Union was in turmoil'? Border voted against Currie Cup expansion? So, you didn't even see fit to interview the most important stakeholder in a Union, CLUBS?

  16. Folks I am going to throw the warning out there.

    Although we encourage robust debate on RW, we will not stand for personal attacks against writers.

    Keep it hard but keep to the issues please.

  17. Grass roots; there are officials and players that requested their names to be kept discreet. I did my research thoroughly. If you are involved in the game that side as you please reveal what is happening. Flanagan is no more the Border coach and I am looking forward to seeing its rise. Let us see the inaccuracies in my article at the union.

  18. Just skipped through the comments, but this from Sarugbymag

    To further complicate their preparations for 2014, the Border Bulldogs still do not have a head coach as Paul Flanagan quit the post after not being paid for three months.

    The Border Academy has also been shut down.

  19. @Jacques(Bunny):

    Also happened in apartheid era: Broederbond
    had a big role in Dawie de Villiers, Avril Malan,
    Johan Claassen, Hannes Marais becoming Bok captains
    (although they all had the right merits)and Doug
    Hopwood not.
    Although Tommy Bedford and others like Stephen Fry
    did make it.

    But whatever the Broeders did is nothing compared
    to what is happening today. Imagine that player
    from Bafana – around no.84 on the world rankings –
    was selected sportsman of the year. Ahead of all
    our world record breakers in swimming.

    And the provinces and other sports were well run before 1994.