A cynical ol’ fart like me needs a good fairytale every now and again. After all, that’s what being a fan is all about!
So I thought I share this titbit for you, courtesy of The Mercury and Mike Harrison. Besides the rags to riches aspect, there’s also some good news about our satellite academy up North. No, not Grey College, but rather a bit further north up the coast – at our Sharks’ Zululand Rugby Academy.
Read on, dear readers…
Little under 1 month ago, Thanda Zululand Rhinos made history when they won the Captain Morgan Murray Cup knock-out competition for the first time in their 84 year history after beating Jonsson Crusaders 22-18 in a pulsating final at Reebok Park (KP 3), the home of InspectaCar College Rovers.
The win came just a week after the Empangeni side, led by former SWD Eagles flank Warren Graff, caused one of the biggest upsets in KZN club rugby history in beating Premier Division champions College Rovers 21-9 in the semi-finals.
The Rhinos trailed 15-14 at the break and with the game delicately poised to go either way in one of the best finals played in decades, the Zululand team came back to take honours – outscoring their more fancied opposition by three tries to two. Their match winning points came from tries from centre Dumi Matyeshani, No 8 Luba Mzwakli and hooker Matt Calitz. Man of the Series flyhalf ‘Ten Ten’ Tobezweni slotted two conversions and a penalty. This is the first silverware the club has ever won and was a case of third time lucky for the side from Zululand, after appearing in only 2 finals previously – the last being back in 1980 when they lost by the narrowest of margins to Maritzburg Collegians. The Murray Cup was first presented to the Natal Rugby Union by Sir TK Murray way back in 1890, and is a knockout competition played towards the end of the club season, after the conclusion of the provincial Weber Cup league.
What a celebration it must gave been in Empangeni after a most memorable season for the mighty Rhinos that confirmed them as one of the most improved clubs in South Africa. This after being perennial wooden spoon contenders for decades…. (LeReq’s note: this honour has now been bestowed on Henno Mentz’s club, Maritzburg varsity – toevallig?)For Chris ‘CJ’ Edwards, coaches Hugh Moore and Kokkie Crous it would have been a particularly emotional and proud moment having been involved in their two previous appearances in the final of one of club rugby’s most successful competitions.
Zululand Rugby Academy
It is interesting to note too that no fewer than 10 players (45%) – Prince Mofeking (LeReq – watch out for this name), Chris Nel, Lee Thompson, Sphephelo Mayaba, Jacques Wittstock, Richard Aingsworth, Welcome Nomzanga, Wessel Cronje, Senzo Sibiya and Frans Laatz, who have all come through the ranks of the Zululand Rugby Academy – were part of the Rhinos’ team that took on Crusaders and College Rovers in the Murray Cup.It goes to show what benefit the Rhinos and the Club have received from the establishment of the Academy three years ago.
From a humble beginning of just 14 students, they have grown to their present structure of 22 and hope to have a large intake of new recruits for the 2009 season.Their mission of providing students with a solid foundation for a successful career associated with the game of rugby is paying off dividends.
But their biggest attribute, which is cause for celebration, is the fact that they have produced no fewer than 23 provincial players, all at U19 and U21 level, during their three years of existance. The management committee, who all have a strong rugby background, and academy co-ordinator Angus Macdonald can be really proud of what has been achieved in such a short time. History of the Rhinos
The history of rugby in Empangeni can be traced back to the club’s foundation at the old Zululand Sugar Mill back in 1921, and the Rhinos can certainly look back with great pride on their history and what they have achieved right up to the present time with the establishment of the Zululand Rugby Academy, based at Mick Kelly Park in Empangeni.
The late Ronald Maitland, Mick Kelly, Chris ‘CJ’ Edwards, a tireless worker for the club still to this day, and John Adlam, were the prime movers in getting the project started and soon the new home of the 86 year old club began to develop into a marvellous facility for the game in the region.
After all the hard work that Mick Kelly had put into the club, it was no surprise that when he was tragically killed in an air crash in 1963 the now famous rugby facility was named after him. Mick Kelly can certainly look back with pride today as the home of the North Coast Rhinos is undoubtedly one of the best club grounds in KwaZulu-Natal.
The club first earned Premier Division status in 1974 and in the interim have had three Springboks listed on their honours board in Kevin Putt, Brent Russell and Adi Jacobs who is a current member of the Sharks squad.
There of course has bee a whole lot of well known names who represented the province that have played on the hallowed turf of the grand old Zululand club.
These include R.C. Lyle (1930), G. Howson (1937-39), N.E. Theunissen (1947-48), R.J. Adlam (1953-1954), A.R. Townsend (1955-59), A.C. Labuschagne (1956-64), K. Sclanders (1969-72), R. Pitcher (1971-78), H. Moore (1978), J. de Kock (1974-76), Stompie de la Porte (1978), J. de Waal (1980), C. Kelly (1980), G. Hines (1983), B. Kankowski (1988), N. Veldsman (1986), Kevin Putt (1992-98), Danie Dames (2008- current) and Dumi Matyeshani (2008 – current). One shouldn’t forget the great services of legendaryfullback Hansie van Rooyen, who is still actively involved.
The club has also produced a number of prominent administrators as well, including one of their favourite sons Chris Edwards. Edwards served as President of the Natal RugbyUnion between 1999 and 2001.
The other well administrators include current Natal RugbyUnion president, Peter Hassard – who played flyhalf for the Rhinos in the 1960′s – as well as Dave Thomas Ralph Lyle, Mick Kelly, Mike Harrison, John Adlam, Paddy Kelly, and Doug Curry to name a few.
Besides winning the Murray Cup, one of their most memorable matches was beating the Collegians juggernaut of 1978 at Kings Park under their captain courageous Natal No. 8 Hugh Moore.
Not long after that they sadly lost their Premier Division status in 1982 after Railway Police beat them in the promotion relegation match that year. Their years in Second Division fortunately didn’t last too long and they reappeared in the Premier Division in 1986 after winning the Wylie Cup and annihilating all their opposition in the process.
In 1990 they had to once again play in the promotion relegation match and destroyed Pinetown Rugby Club in the process to retain their Premier Division Status. They never looked back from that year on finishing well up on the Moor Cup log standings except for their two lean years of 1993 and 1994.
The club has had their fair share of New Zealand players passing through their ranks including Kevin Putt with Vaughn Going a nephew of the legendary Syd Going, Geoff Hines a flanker of remarkable skill who represented Natal, Stewie Gemmell, Jason Goldsmith and Chris Costello the other Kiwis who wore the Rhino’s strip with destinction.
Indeed the club has come a long way since those distant days and they have done the game proud.
Now as they go forward with their sponsors Thanda Private Game Reserve it’s a safe bet to say they have done all for the right reasons and that is for the love of the game. So it’s apt for their sponsors name Thanda to be attached to this fine club for Thanda is the Zulu word for love and yes for the love of the game we all hold dear.
May the legacy of Zululand and Rhinos rugby continue to grow under African skies.Tweet