SACS nurtures next generation of Springboks
June 30, 2009
SACS compete for a lineout during this year's Cape Schools Week in Newlands © sacsrugby.com
Rugby Wold Cup holders, IRB Sevens Series champions, Super 14 winners and now, conquerors of the British & Irish Lions. It would appear that South African rugby, in all its forms, is in rude health.
Never before has a country been able to lay claim to such an impressive array of accolades but that fact is unlikely to quench the country's insatiable thirst for success on the rugby field. That desire is evident at all levels of the game from the international stage down to school level.
One establishment at the forefront of that quest for sporting excellence is South African College Schools, commonly referred to as SACS, based within the Newlands suburb of Cape Town. The high school's classical white architecture, set within the leafy green Montebello Estate, is currently home to approximately 750 boys for whom sport is an integral part of their daily life.
The oldest school in South Africa, which sits at the foot of the magnificent Table Mountain, was founded way back in 1829 and can boast former Springboks Gerry Brand and Percy Montgomery amongst its famous former pupils. In addition, former South African cricketer and Western province fly-half Peter Kirsten is a SACS graduate who is now on the academic staff.
"The importance of sport in many of the 'traditional' South African schools cannot be understated," said teacher Richard Found who combines his academic duties with that of both a rugby and rowing coach. "Sport in South Africa is a big deal and participation in a team sport is a compulsory element of the education we offer.
"Rugby is huge. There are eight senior (U19) rugby teams playing under the SACS name each week, not to mention the dozens of teams at U16, U15 and U14 levels," added Found. "Add to this the hockey, cross country and then summer sports of cricket, tennis, squash, water polo and rowing and you get a sense of the scale of the matter."
The school is particularly proud of its rugby roots and further evidence of the sport's popularity comes in the size of the crowds attracted to their games.
"Recently, the school hosted our local rivals Wynberg Boys School," added Found. "Around 5,000 supporters turned out to watch the first team play and the 30 other matches that were played that day on the SACS campus."
In addition to the team sports that are on offer at the school, each boy has an hour of structured PE within the curriculum where specific skills are developed and they also benefit from master classes from former pupils with Montgomery recently sharing his wisdom with the current crop of students.
But as you might expect, the school is keen to see sporting achievements matched in the class room.
SACS, which also gave birth to the University of Cape Town, seeks to, "promote excellence with an all-round education" and is one of only four specific schools in the world to offer a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. The scholarship, funded by the estate of the controversial historical figure Cecil Rhodes, is awarded each year to a SACS Old Boy graduate from a South African university.
"Our school is run very much on the ideals that the Rhodes scholarship is founded on," insisted Found. "A 'SACS man' has four strings to his bow covering excellence in academics, excellence in sport, cultural involvement and service in terms of the community. The overall aim is to produce a well rounded individual."
Although a fee-paying establishment, the school offers many scholarships and bursaries, a number of which allow previously disadvantaged boys to win a place at the school having shown academic, sporting, music or leadership excellence. These are sponsored by past pupils, corporations and the school itself.
This week SACS is the sporting centre of the region as host of the Cape Schools Week. The biennial event sees five Eastern Cape schools - SACS, Selborne, Muir, Queens and Grey PE go head-to-head with five of their Western Cape rivals - RBHS, Wynberg, Boland and Paarl Gym.
The event was the brainchild of former SACS schoolmaster Ray Connellan who organized the first Cape Schools Week in 1980. Since then it has gone from strength to strength with many of the players going on to provincial selection and beyond. However, the popular festival of rugby is just one of many that take place all over the country throughout the year.
The season culminates in July with Craven Week, named after the legendary Springbok player and coach Dr Danie Craven. The Under 18s event, first staged in 1964, features the country's best young players and has long been considered an important stepping stone to higher honours.
Twenty-two teams will participate in this year's event in East London with each of the 14 provinces being represented by at least one side with teams from Namibia, Zimbabwe, LSEN and the SA Academy adding to the mix. Games traditionally attract crowds in their thousands and are also televised.
Craven Week casts a controversial shadow over Cape Schools Week with many of the leading players rested by their coaches ahead of what is the biggest date on the schools rugby calendar. But such is the depth of talent in the junior ranks that Craven Week cannot possibly accommodate all the talent. As a result, the standard of rugby at Cape Schools Week and similar events remains high and the action competitive.
And this fertile breeding ground should ensure South Africa retain their place amongst the sport's elite for many years to come.