Cape Town - Springbok legends Victor Matfield and Jaco van der Westhuyzen have been roped in as coaches to the invitational Africa Pacific Select XV at the inaugural World Schools Festival in Paarl between April 2-7.
The dynamic duo will spearhead a star-studded coaching team that includes former Bok flyer Cornal Hendricks, Tongan international Hale T-Pole, and Samoan scrumhalf and Auckland Rugby Union development coach Junior Poluleuligaga who will take on mentorship roles.
Promoting camaraderie across different nations the composite Dragons team will be made up of players from South Africa and the Pacific Islands. The team includes schoolboys from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
The festival will mark the first time the Dragons will be selected at schoolboy level while South African players will be selected from disadvantaged schools.
Matfield and former Bok flyhalf Van der Westhuyzen have taken the reins of the Dragons before in the World Club 10s in Mauritius.
Due to the limited time the duo will have with the team, Matfield said their approach to the tournament would mirror that of Barbarians rugby.
“The most important thing is to create a team spirit where the guys want to play for each other,” Matfield said.
“When you look at the Pacific Islands players you have guys that play with a lot of flair, so I don’t think you would want to inhibit that with a set game plan.
“We will lay the foundation with the key principals of the game but otherwise we need to allow them to express themselves on the field.”
Taking his cue from his own playing days, Van der Westhuyzen will be looking to instil a sense of adventure with the ball in hand.
“Although we won’t have too much time with them, we would like to introduce a trick or two,” Van der Westhuyzen said.
“The most important thing is that the kids enjoy the games, it is the first time that a team like this will be assembled, so it is also a great experience for them.”
Before he became a household name as the Springboks’ most capped Test player and one of the best locks in international rugby, Matfield said he was a shy kid from Pietersburg High School.
Learning his rugby in the small town of Polokwane away from big city lights, Matfield was only exposed to different playing cultures at a later stage in his career.
“I was a shy guy at school, I was a bit nervous just getting together at the South African Academy team where we had guys from the cities mixing with us from the 'platteland' (rural towns),” Matfield recalled.
“But the first time you get on to the training field it changes, and you start banding together, so this is an amazing experience for them to share each other's cultures and get a different perspective on life and rugby.”
Matfield said the World Schools Festival will not only be an incredible experience for the schoolboys to test their mettle against international opponents but a great opportunity for rugby fans to see the future heroes in action.
“The festival will be fantastic, we’ve seen how big schoolboy rugby is in South Africa, and we’ve seen almost bigger crowds than in Super Rugby when some of these schools play against each other,” Matfield said.
“It is fantastic that these players will get to play against teams from other countries in a festival environment.”
Hendricks, who has played for the Dragons in 10s tournaments, said he looked forward to serving in a mentorship role to the youngsters and would also assist in the coaching of the backline.
“I would for example teach the back three skills like high-ball catching, passing and kicking when they are under pressure,” Hendricks said.
- Tickets for the Paarl showcase can be purchased at www.computicket.com or at the gates.
Prices vary from R55 for adults, R35 for school pupils between the ages of 10 and 18, and children under the age of 10 are charged R15 per person per day. Four-day rugby passes are priced at R190, R110 and R35 for adults, school pupils and children respectively.