It’s a no-brainer to in­vest in Bor­der rugby

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xa­ban­isa sports@city­ Fol­low me on Twit­ter @simx­a­ban­isa

One of the un­told sto­ries of the con­cluded Su­perS­port Rugby Chal­lenge is that of the Bor­der Bull­dogs, a pro­vin­cial union that has pulled it­self up by the boot­straps to re­gain com­pet­i­tive­ness over the past few sea­sons.

Through­out the group stages of the tour­na­ment, Bor­der’s call­ing card was giv­ing the op­po­si­tion the hurry up thanks to the un­ortho­dox mix of al­most ig­nor­ing the set phases and run­ning their op­po­nents ragged as they looked to win games by sim­ply scor­ing more points than them.

The rea­son David Do­bela’s team didn’t en­tirely get their name in the lights was their fail­ure to make the quar­ter­fi­nals be­cause their points dif­fer­ence was one point less than the Free State XV, who ad­vanced as one of the third-place fin­ish­ers from the three-pool tour­na­ment.

But that wasn’t be­fore three of their play­ers – the well-rounded fly half Oliver Zono, de­cep­tively quick and wily winger Mike Makase, and com­bat­ive and skil­ful num­ber eight Sokum­phumla Xakalashe – had el­bowed their way into the na­tion’s con­scious­ness.

The diminu­tive Zono – with his rare blend of vi­sion, pace, quick feet and soft hands, ex­ploded onto the scene and fin­ished in the top three of most of the im­por­tant scor­ing sta­tis­tics: top points scor­ers, try scor­ers, and most penal­ties and con­ver­sions scored.

The re­sult was in­ter­est from Western Province, where he re­cently tri­alled, and the Pu­mas. The South­ern Kings are pos­si­bly wait­ing in the wings to of­fer him a Pro14 deal in the wake of cap­tain Lionel Cronjé’s de­par­ture.

But the catch with every mod­est Bor­der suc­cess is that it in­vari­ably leads to an ex­o­dus of play­ers at the end of every cam­paign. Ac­cord­ing to Monde Ta­bata, an SA Rugby ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber tasked with ad­min­is­trat­ing the union three years ago, they stand to lose 11 play­ers this year.

“They’ve had to eat hum­ble pie and let the best play­ers go to bal­ance the books and sur­vive fi­nan­cially,” he said.

The most recog­nis­able of said best play­ers is winger Maka­zole Mapimpi, whose ex­ploits while sec­onded to the South­ern Kings for Su­per Rugby earned him a deal with the Chee­tahs.

Ta­bata’s frus­tra­tion is that, in the past two years, Bor­der – who con­sis­tently play squads made of 90% black play­ers – have pro­duced four Su­per Rugby play­ers in Mapimpi, the Sharks’ Lukhanyo Am, Masixole Banda (Kings) and Jo­hannes Jonker (Lions), but have noth­ing to show for it.

“Our coaches are paid a pit­tance com­pared to other coaches around the coun­try, and the ma­te­rial they have is nat­u­ral and raw with­out the in­ter­ven­tion of tra­di­tional rugby schools. Yet each year, they pro­duce play­ers like Mapimpi,” Ta­bata said.

His main gripe is that Bor­der – who were “bank­rupt, owed every man and his dog in East Lon­don, could only pay play­ers match fees and strug­gled to pay staff” three years ago, yet still man­aged to pro­duce good re­sults on a shoe­string bud­get – are not be­ing given the op­por­tu­nity to show what they can do with real funds be­hind them.

“Bor­der doesn’t get recog­ni­tion even from spon­sors. Mercedes-Benz and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment are not in­ter­ested de­spite the re­sults,” he said.

“SA Rugby is also not putting its money where its mouth is. This is a fac­tory of black ta­lent, but it’s treated like every other small union.

“It should be looked at strate­gi­cally from a trans­for­ma­tion per­spec­tive be­cause it is the only union pro­duc­ing African play­ers at the rate that it is.”

For Mapimpi, who comes from Tsholom­nqa, a ru­ral area out­side East Lon­don, Bor­der had to change his diet, in­tro­duce him to a sports psy­chol­o­gist and ef­fect other in­ter­ven­tions to get him to where he is to­day.

“The ad­van­tage of Bor­der de­vel­op­ing a player is that he is in an en­vi­ron­ment where he won’t be played out of po­si­tion and end up just play­ing for his salary, like they some­times do at the big­ger unions.”

Play­ers from the so-called for­mer Model C schools get snapped up by the Bulls and Sharks’ scouts, leav­ing young­sters from ru­ral ar­eas such as Tsholom­nqa and Transkei de­pen­dent on Bor­der to mine their ta­lent.

To many, this sounds like an­other case of a smaller union com­ing out with its beg­ging bowl, but, in the spirit of con­sis­tently grow­ing the game, it makes per­fect sense.

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