Building tomorrow’s Sharks

2012-07-28 15:41

He’s Bob the Builder by day.

By night, Rob van Tooren from the KwaZulu-Natal town of Eshowe is a superstar rugby coach.

Seven years ago, the builder began the Eshowe Junior Development Rugby Club with 13 children.

Today, he has up to 120 players at practice and four assistants who coach them to positions in teams at the province’s top rugby schools.

“Our aim is not to make stars. We want boys to come and enjoy themselves. We want children to play rugby,” he said at practice on Thursday. “There is so much rubbish out there. Children just need a place to come and forget all that.”

Van Tooren (39), a former amateur player, has players aged between four and 19 who come from seven different schools, four of which are in the surrounding rural areas.

Some are poor, some are not.

“We have no restrictions. We don’t see colour. We are not worried if you’ve played rugby before. We want these children to broaden their horizons and not be limited by where they come from. We want them to find out what is out there,” he said.

Shlenge Mazibuko (13) travels 7km home to Umlalazi township after practice. He relies on lifts from an unreliable mate whose grandfather has a car, and recently had to beg his mother to allow him to keep playing despite the late hours and sporadic lift arrangement.

“I want to play for the Springboks,” he says proudly.

“I love Uncle Rob because he has a good heart. He wants the best for us and thinks we can play for the Springboks.”

One of the club’s brightest stars is Seun Maduna (14), who was accepted to Durban’s Glenwood High School on a full rugby scholarship.

“He will go far. He will definitely play for the Sharks in five years’ time,” says Van Tooren.

Maduna’s two older brothers also play for the development club. Their father, Jotham Maduna, a sugar company foreman, says there is no way he could offer his sons the future they now have on his salary.

Van Tooren has more success stories, including Gert Coetzee, who is on a sports bursary at Durban High School; Nhlakanipho Sibiya, who plays for the province’s Under-14 team; and his own son Brent, who was also accepted to Glenwood High on a sports scholarship.

“I believe every child has potential. A lot of boys that come to us feel they don’t have worth. People don’t believe in them and some have even given up on them. But they are just children.”

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