Who runs the pitch?

RUGBY STARS: Highveld Secondary School’s girls rugby team will represent Mpumalanga at the national winter games in Durban. (Supplied)
RUGBY STARS: Highveld Secondary School’s girls rugby team will represent Mpumalanga at the national winter games in Durban. (Supplied)

Johannesburg - The girls’ rugby team at the Highveld Secondary School in Elukwatini, Mpumalanga, has done a remarkable job of reaching the SA Schools National Winter Games Championships, which start in Durban on Monday.

This is just six months after they started playing the popular sport. When the girls started participating in rugby in January, they had no idea they would rise to such heights.

Highveld’s glittering journey to the throne of provincial school rugby began when former rugby player Sibongiseni Shongwe decided to start a development programme as a way to bring the game to more areas in the province.

Serious injuries

“My dream was to introduce a rugby culture to Elukwatini.  I'm happy about what has happened since I started the development drive,” says Shongwe, who has since been employed as a development officer by the Mpumalanga Rugby Union.

However, he says it was a struggle to start the project.

“Initially, parents did not want their children to play rugby for fear of serious injuries,” he says.

But, after months of engaging with the parents and the school governing body, they finally allowed their kids to play.

Representing the region in Durban has come with another challenge, says Shongwe.

“We had one granny arguing that she couldn’t allow her grandchild to go because Durban is too far and she was worried about car accidents".

The team initially only had eight children, but now there is a complete team of 22 players.

The former Blue Bulls Tuks Rugby Academy player says his mission is to spread rugby throughout the province.

Chess star

A great talent unearthed in the province is 14-year-old Banele Mhango, who will represent Mpumalanga in a chess category.

Just like most children who come from a disadvantaged background, finances are hampering Mhango’s progress and development.

He missed out on a chance to represent the country at the Commonwealth Chess Championship in India, which started last Sunday, but all is not lost – the Lihawu Secondary School pupil is one of three youngsters chosen to represent South Africa at the World Youth Chess Championships in Uruguay in September.

For now, his focus is on the Winter Games Championships, which will consist of 10 teams with nine provincial winners and one invitational team.

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