CAPE TOWN – What does Siya Kolisi, Phendulani Buthelezi, Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Jefferson Poirot and Adam Beard have in common?
The Under-18 International Series celebrates its 10th anniversary this season, and judging by the growing list of national players who have come through the ranks, including Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and his 2019 Junior Springbok counterpart Phendulani Buthelezi, it has become an invaluable stepping stone in the various participants’ careers.
The junior international competition had humble beginnings in 2009 with Italy, France and England touring the Western Cape, and over the years it was adapted to include a few Under-19 players from some visiting teams, which saw a change to the U19 International Series.
The tournament has become a key feature on the South African rugby calendar, with every player participating in the U18 SA Rugby Youth Weeks competing for places in the SA Schools and SA Schools A teams.
With the likes of Kolisi, Buthelezi, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Handré Pollard, Damian Willemse, Jesse Kriel, Warrick Gelant, Zain Davids, Stedman Gans, Curwin Bosch and Salmaan Moerat taking their first steps in the international arena in the competition, it is no surprise that players regard it is the ultimate achievement at school level.
The same applies to the visiting teams – which has included England, France, Wales and Italy over the years – who have seen the likes of Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, George Ford, and Jonathan Joseph (all England), Galletier Kellian, William Demotte, Jonathan Danty and Jefferson Poirot (all France) and Adam Beard (Wales), among others advancing to their senior national teams.
What makes the tournament particularly significant is that for all of the players who are selected to represent the SA Schools and SA Schools teams, in particular, it marks the first time they achieve national honours and the first time they face international sides wearing the Springbok on their chests.
The short turnaround time between matches also exposes them to the high demands of international rugby, especially for those who advance to the Junior Springbok team where they are tested to the limit physically with five matches less than three weeks at the World Rugby U20 Championship.
This year, we welcome Argentina to the Series for the first time, and given the strong statement they are making in the international arena through the Los Pumitas and the Pumas senior side, and at provincial level in the Currie Cup First Division and Vodacom Super Rugby level, there is no doubt that their up-and-coming junior players will use this as a platform to launch their careers.
U18 International Series fixtures Friday (Paul Roos Gymnasium, Stellenbosch): 13h00: SA Schools A vs France U18 14h30: England U18 vs Argentina U18 16h00: SA Schools vs Wales U18
Tuesday (Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl): 13h00: SA Schools A vs Wales U18 14h30: SA Schools vs Argentina U18 16h00: England U18 vs France U18
Saturday (Huguenot High School, Wellington): 12h00: SA Schools A vs Argentina U18 13h30: France U18 vs Wales U18 15h00: SA Schools vs England U18