DURBAN - Transformation is the word that has some rugby followers putting their hands over their ears or shutting their eyes, while others cannot get enough of it because they know that there are so many golden nuggets buried in the outer recesses of South African rugby.
Let’s focus on the case of Makazole Mapimpi, who is currently with the Sharks. It is beyond madness that just over a year ago Mapimpi was ready to pack up rugby, his hobby, and concentrate on finding a job.
But by sheer good fortune, Kings coach Deon Davids heard about this special talent playing in a township league in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape. Mapimpi was 26 at the time that he was brought into the Kings fold.
Now carefully read this fact: At the age of 27, in his first year of professional rugby, Mapimpi scored 28 tries, all of them for struggling teams. He scored 11 tries in 14 games for the Kings in Super Rugby, then 10 tries for the Cheetahs in Pro14, plus seven for the Bloemfontein team in the Currie Cup.
One year he was scuffling about in the dust bowls that are the township fields, the next he was scoring spectacular tries at famous venues in Australasia.
Anybody who watched the Kings beat the Reds in Brisbane last year will never forget the raptures of the Aussie commentators when Mapimpi scored a try that could well rank in the top 10 of Super Rugby tries of all time.
Having run around a few defenders, Mapimpi had fullback Karmichael Hunt to beat and he proceeded to run inside the fullback, then outside, and then inside once more before finishing out wide, with Hunt clueless as to where the wing was.
Aussie commentator Phil Kearns, not known for his praise of South African players, yelled: “That is just fantastic. What an amazing try. Hunt is going to need some dizzy pills.”
Well done to Makazole, well done to the Aussies for acknowledging magic, but no commendations to the development units of the provinces across the country that operate under the relevant department at the South African Rugby Union.
How could it possibly be that Mapimpi, who in my humble opinion is going to be a very good Springbok, played township rugby until the age of 26 and then was going to look for a job, having no illusion that he could possibly be a professional sportsman one day. He says it did not enter his mind.
Now here's a thought, and I have absolutely no beef with the players I am going to mention. Would Bryan Habana be a Springbok legend if he had gone to a township school instead of KES in Johannesburg? The same for a host of black Springboks who went to the “right” schools, the previously whites-only schools from a forgettable era.
Sticking with examples from the Sharks, would Curwin Bosch have become the sensational player he is, with a Springbok future mapped out for him, if he had not been taken out of township rugby in the Eastern Cape and brought through the polished rugby system of Port Elizabeth’s famed Grey High?
My point is that it is easy to fast-track young black players who go to the “right” rugby schools, but what is Saru doing about the likes of Mapimpi, who might well have been packing shelves in a supermarket last year instead of scoring 28 professional tries.
How many diamonds are undiscovered in township rugby and then remain buried when the player gives up, not knowing they could have been the next Danie Gerber?
It is easy for Saru to identify and coach the black stars who come through the established rugby schools, but is enough being done to unearth the Cullinan diamonds that are criminally undetected at the unfashionable schools of the rural areas?