Gqoboka’s move tells us what is go­ing wrong

CityPress - - Sport - Dan.retief@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @retief­dan

He might have been de­scribed as a di­a­mond by his new coach, but the move by Lizo Gqoboka (25) to the Blue Bulls says a lot about what is wrong with South African rugby.

Gqoboka, a sturdy 115kg prop who has man­aged to stand out in the morass that is Eastern Province rugby, has been lured to Pre­to­ria.

His rea­sons for leav­ing his Xhosa heart­land are good – not least that Kings play­ers were ei­ther not be­ing paid their salaries or had to wait un­til well af­ter the end of the month be­fore their pay cheques were de­posited.

That alone would have been enough to con­vince a young man with plenty of tal­ent to head north, but the fa­cil­i­ties at Lof­tus and the chance to play in a strong team (if the Bulls again reach the heights of a few years ago) would have helped make up his mind.

His new coach, Nol­lis Marais, who will be go­ing into his first sea­son of Su­per Rugby next year, called Gqoboka a di­a­mond – al­though a block of coal might have been a bet­ter de­scrip­tion, as he is not yet the fin­ished prod­uct – and pre­dicted the man would soon be a Spring­bok.

One can only wish the strap­ping player well, as his is a won­der­ful rags-to-riches story.

Hail­ing from Nta­bankulu near Mount Frere, he went to the lo­cal school and did not come into con­tact with rugby un­til he went to Dur­ban to study hu­man re­sources man­age­ment. Through friends and cir­cum­stance, he ended up at Dur­ban Col­le­gians.

His size and ath­leti­cism were ideal for rugby, rather than soc­cer, his pre­ferred sport up to then, and he took to the rough-and-tum­ble game with gusto.

A friend got him a try­out with the EP Kings in Port El­iz­a­beth, and soon he was of­fered a con­tract with the union.

So, un­like so many top se­nior play­ers, Gqoboka did not come up through the schools sys­tem. He has no na­tional Un­der-19 or Un­der-20 caps, nor­mally a pre­req­ui­site for later hon­ours, and the clos­est he’s been to the Spring­boks is be­ing in­vited to train with the Boks by Heyneke Meyer – which might ac­count for the Blue Bulls con­nec­tion.

How­ever, Gqoboka’s march to Pre­to­ria is ex­actly what should not be hap­pen­ing with the Kings and South African rugby.

A player with his back­ground should have been able to stay in the Eastern Cape to be­come a role model to oth­ers.

He should have been able to play for his lo­cal side, have suc­cess with them and reach for his dream of be­ing a Spring­bok while in the land of his roots.

The Bulls have also en­ticed the out­stand­ing young winger Luther Obi to move to Lof­tus, and have their sights on Tim Agaba, Them­be­lani Bholi and Syl­vian Mahuza.

The Eastern Province Un­der-19 side re­cently won their first na­tional age-group ti­tle with a team that was be­yond fully trans­formed and it’s very likely these play­ers are hav­ing con­tracts waved un­der their noses by the big unions.

The SA Rugby Union (Saru) is start­ing to crack the whip on trans­for­ma­tion tar­gets and the Bulls, rep­re­sent­ing a re­gion where not many black schools play rugby, have the cash to im­prove their num­bers.

It is also the case in other unions, other than in the Cape, and the Bulls prob­a­bly feel they have pulled off some­thing of a coup by raid­ing the Kings’ trove be­fore Saru steps in to man­age the trou­bled fran­chise.

Sadly, it should not have hap­pened. Real trans­for­ma­tion will only hap­pen once unions start to pro­duce home-grown tal­ent by in­tro­duc­ing rugby in black schools and nur­tur­ing the tal­ent that is un­doubt­edly there.

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