‘Flipping good’ kids make prince and Smit look slow

2015-12-02 13:08
British royal Prince Harry joined the Sharks youth development training session at King’s Park.

British royal Prince Harry joined the Sharks youth development training session at King’s Park. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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2015-11-30 13:46

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Pietermaritzburg - Prince Harry’s whirlwind trip through South Africa surfed into Durban on Tuesday with a visit to the Shark Tank and the golden mile.

Sporting what appears to have ­become his trademark ginger beard, slacks and white collared shirt, his first stop was King’s Park Stadium to view a rugby programme which is a ­partnership between SA Rugby and the British High Commission. It is an ­exchange programme that gives ­opportunities to players and coaches in the UK and South Africa from ­disadvantaged backgrounds.

Durban played its part providing the royal with its trademark blistering summer heat while nearly 100 eager young rugby enthusiasts from Umlazi, KwaMashu and Inanda met the prince. But the formalities quickly waned, with him taking off the posh gear and swapping it for a Sharks shirt and shorts. Eventually the 31-year old was running barefoot on the hallowed grounds and playing a game of touch with the young children against another team captained by SA rugby legend and Sharks CEO John Smit. But it was Smit’s charges who came up victorious.

The press corps continually quipped with royal household officials that they hoped Harry was giving Smit advice for the Sharks season after their 2015 campaign in both in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby was so dismal.

When Smit was asked if he would be offering Harry a coaching position on the back of the provincial ­franchise’s dismal season he said: “We are short of coaches so we will see. He definitely has the motivational factor and he has the ginger hair so he will bring fire into the change room.”

Followed by his own entourage which kept the media at bay and which was noticeably made up of women, he took a particular liking to Sharky, ­dragging the sea predator into photoshoots and even sticking his head into the mouth of the formidable beast.

“It is pretty cool that he has chosen to visit the Sharks to spread his enthusiasm, which is a privilege. He and I looked pretty foolish out there. The kids were flippin’ good,” said Smit.

And he was right. The children ­seldom passed to either the World Cup winner or the fifth in line to British throne. Smit managed a few one-handed offloads, but Harry showed some prowess executing a sidestep when he eventually got the ball, before sending it off to an eager team-mate with his eyes set on the tryline.

Smit said any mention of England’s poor Rugby World Cup performance was quickly shut down.

“We didn’t discuss it much. If I spoke about England he mentioned ­Japan,” said Smit.

After Sharks back Joe Peterson sneaked a selfie with the prince he then received a Sharks jersey with his name emblazoned on the back “HRH Harry”. He was also given a further two printed shirts for George and Charlotte, the children of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate.

The blitz visit then moved towards Durban’s beaches where he visited the non-profit Surfers Not Street Children headquarters in the CBD and then ­Addington Beach. The NPO is run by Tom Hewitt, himself a recipient of the UK’s community service order, an MBE.

With the north-easterly wind ­howling and blue bottles present Prince Harry, whose lack of visible body guards paled in comparison to South African politicians, strolled ­onto the beach promenade startling onlookers and bringing Addington Beach to near standstill. Police horses patrolled the vicinity of a closed-off ­area of the beach and the prince, looking slightly tired, interacted with a number of the young surfers before watching them execute some fine top to bottom surfing, while his face reddened under the intense midday sun.

“Surfing is the catalyst for getting off the streets. We have a long-standing relationship with the UK High ­Commission and have supporters in SA and the UK such as British ­Airways,” said Hewitt, who was meeting Harry for the first time.

• jonathan.erasmus@witness.co.za

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