Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

Korkee, Alexander pay tribute to former Baby Bok coach Sauls

- HERMAN GIBBS herman.gibbs@gmail.com

ERIC Sauls, one of the country's foremost rugby coaches in a post-1994 democratic South Africa who played a leading hand in grooming some of Mzansi's finest talents, has died at the age of 67 in an Eastern Cape hospital. Sauls is survived by his wife Belinda. The highlight of Sauls's coaching career was his historic feat of guiding the Baby Boks to the Sanzar/UAR Under-21 championsh­ip at the 1999 tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was the first time South Africa had won an age-group tournament at the World Cup level.

Apart from the Baby Boks, Sauls also coached several national junior sides such as SA Schools, the SA Under19 side and many Craven Week squads.

Some of these teams were captained by the likes of Corné Krige, Bob Skinstad and John Smit, all of whom later became Springbok captains.

Some players in the current Bok World Cup squad in France passed through his hands at youth level, including skipper Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi.

On occasion, Jake White, who later became a World Cup-winning coach, was his assistant or served as technical adviser to some of the youth teams that Sauls coached.

“Eric was a trailblaze­r for black coaches in South Africa and played a very important role in the transforma­tion of our game during the first decade after unity,” SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said yesterday.

“He helped hone the skills of an entire generation of junior players in South Africa, working with players such as Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi at age-group level, all of whom have gone to become great Springboks.

“Rugby was always a big part of his life since the days he played as a young barefoot boy in Uitenhage, all the way to when he was selected to play in green and gold in 1986.

“As a teacher, working with young players came naturally to Eric. A deeply religious man, he was a strong leader, selfless, humble and very passionate about the game, and always willing to learn and help others.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Belinda, their family, friends and other loved ones during this very sad and difficult time.”

Some of the teams Sauls played for included Uitenhage, Peninsula Technikon, UWC and Tygerberg Union, where he formed a formidable partnershi­p with scrumhalf Ronnie Korkee. While playing at Tygerberg, he was part of the team that won the coveted SA Cup trophy on two occasions.

Sauls and Korkee were later capped for the erstwhile Saru national team.

Korkee, a lifelong friend of Sauls, said his halfback partner died in hospital after an illness. They had been friends since high school days when their rugby talents first came to the fore.

“Eric was known as ‘The Boot' because he was a prolific points scorer,” said Korkee.

“He was tremendous­ly gifted and could cause havoc in the opposition defence.

“We played in many lesser fancied sides, but with Eric leading the way, we caused many upsets.”

At the senior level, Sauls coached at the Bulls, SWD Eagles and Eastern Province.

He also enjoyed coaching stints in Ireland and Italy. Later, he was appointed manager of coaching developmen­t at the Eastern Province Rugby Union.

Sauls, who was born and bred in Uitenhage, was one of the finest rugby talents to emerge from the Eastern Cape. He was a natural flyhalf, but also played fullback on occasion.

 ?? ?? APART from the Baby Boks, Eric Sauls also coached several national junior sides such as SA Schools and many Craven Week squads. | LEON MULLER
APART from the Baby Boks, Eric Sauls also coached several national junior sides such as SA Schools and many Craven Week squads. | LEON MULLER

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