Port Elizabeth - Three young Port Elizabeth rugby players will receive a golden opportunity to further their burgeoning careers when they sign up with the SARU Kings Rugby Academy on Tuesday, February 26.
The three Linkside High pupils - flyhalf Thabo Matiso, 16, lock Hussayn Banzi, 15, and flank Lubabalo Ndamase, 15 - have been identified as having the potential to do well in the game and they form part of the Kings Academy's ongoing objective of developing local talent.
Matiso began his rugby career at Ithembelihle, Banzi went to St Thomas and Ndamase attended Newell High.
The trio have received support from Linkside High in terms of their uniforms and stationery, and all they need to purchase are their tablets and e-books.
Under the tutelage of Linkside-Ithembelihle coach Theo Pieterse, Banzi and Ndamase will play for the Linkside Under-16 team this year, while Matiso will play for a combined Linkside-Ithembelihle first XV as Linkside do not have enough players for a full first team.
Pieterse, who has over three decades' experience of coaching and developing local talent, will be in charge of their programmes, with assistance from Kings Academy head Rob Kempson and his coaching team.
The Kings Academy plays a crucial role in preparing young players for the rigours and challenges of senior rugby. Fruits of their efforts were shown in 2015 when the EP Kings Under-19 team were crowned national A Division champions.
Furthermore, a number of players who have come through the Academy ranks have been signed up for the Southern Kings Super Rugby franchise, including EP Under-19 stars from last year, No 8 Junior Pokomela and scrumhalf James Hall.
Others who have come through the Academy system and will be keen to make their mark at the next level, having been contracted by the Southern Kings, include fullback Malcolm Jaer, who played for the SA Under-20 side last year, flanks CJ Velleman, Thembelani Bholi and Stefan Willemse, lock/flank Tyler Paul, No 8 Aidon Davis and centre/flyhalf Shane Gates. Of those, the eldest is Bholi, aged 25.
"We are delighted to have these promising young players on board and we will do everything we can to assist them to reach their full potential," Kempson said. "We hope that players who have gone before them such as Malcolm (Jaer), Junior (Pokomela) and James (Hall) will provide an inspiration for what can be achieved through our structures at the Kings Academy."
Pieterse said the players would receive exposure in many tournaments this year, including the popular Grey High Festival, which will be played at the end of April-early May.
The coach is also hoping to build on the talent which exists in Nelson Mandela Bay's townships to ensure they receive every opportunity to realise their potential.
"I am looking at about 10 more very talented players from the townships to link up with Linkside High," Pieterse said. "Most of them are still Under-16 and Under-17, but this will enable Linkside High to develop a team which can be competitive in first league rugby in the next two years.
"At the end of the year, I will take an Under-17 team from the townships to the annual KZN development tournament and there I will be able to identify more talent to bring to Linkside High."
At the Kings Academy signing of three Linkside High School pupils on Wednesday, January 26, at Linkside High were (from left): Academy head Rob Kempson, Lubabalo Ndamase, Thabo Matiso, Hussayn Banzi and Academy analyst Zuko Ndlela (Picture: OLGA WILLIAMS)