The 2020 schoolboy rugby season will go down as somewhat of a ‘myth’ in rugby folklore, having been curtailed before any meaningful action due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What won’t go down as a myth, however, is that the loss of the season coincided with a with a few institutional and individual losses. While schools in the Border region such as Hudson Park High School and Queens College would’ve felt aggrieved at losing out in a season they hoped to unleash their “Dream Teams” in, there will be young schoolboys who would’ve been relying on their matric year to earn contracts that will help them decide their futures out of school. However, not all was lost, especially to those young men who had excelled already at u16 and u17 level, and earned contracts that ensured their future was secured.
At the start of this month, many young professional rugby hopefuls traveled to their new homes, in the hope of turning childhood dreams into adulthood reality. Here Grit Sports picks out the top 15 of those gentlemen, born in the Eastern Cape who have secured their futures and whose progress should be looked out for. Here is the list below in no particular order.
15. Waseem Boswell (Sharks):
The Dale College Old Boy comes on this list as one of the talents that have gone under the radar, as compared to most of his compatriots. While the list is dominated by players who have worn provincial colours from at least u16 going up, Boswell’s last recorded appearance in the famous Border colours came in his u13 year. But that, by no means, indicates that the lanky utility back has completely removed his foot from the gas paddle, having worked himself into the first team of the prestigious Qonce School from his grade 11 year. Known to be efficient in the offload it is perhaps, no surprise then, that he found his home in the outside centre position for the school in 2019. However, it is the year 2020 where he was expected to come up big for Dale, and potentially relive the form that last saw him selected into a provincial side, by making the Border Craven Week side. Unfortunately the pandemic put an end to such hopes for the speedster with him having already putting on some talismanic performances at full back for Dale, with his astute finishing abilities on display at Border Schools firing early warning shots for his competitors for a Craven Week team spot. However, Boswell’s performances didn’t go unnoticed regardless, as they attracted the attention of the Sharks who snapped him up. Boswell earning such an opportunity without provincial colours, in a struggling team too, is no mean feat and should tell you everything you need to know about the player the Sharks have in their ranks.
14. Lathitha Nqebe (Sharks):
An Eastern Province representative since the u13 Craven Week in 2015, Nqebe has stayed true to the promise of his rugby trajectory. At home both at wing and fullback the speedstar formed a vital part of the Grey P.E first team backline in 2019, He then earned selection for the EP Academy week side. In 2020 he was expected to graduate to the Craven Week side, while continuing his key role in the sky blue jersey. But fortunately for him, 2019 was the year he needed to secure his future, as he now reunites with school teammates Siviwe Zondani and Damon Royle as a contracted academy player at the Sharks this year.
13. Latica Nela (SA Sevens Academy):
Perhaps the most unique of the players on the list, in the sense that Nela has decided to pursue the Sevens route as opposed to Fifteens, like the rest of the names on this list. The fleet footed star left his native East London after his grade 7 year, trading the black and white of Selborne for that of Hilton College, where he would later become a stalwart for their first team rugby side. Although, he has decided his future lies in Sevens, Latica is certainly no slouch in the fifteen man game, comfortable in various backline positions, Nela eventually settled for the centres. Performances of the highest calibre initially earned him a place in the KZN Academy week side, before an injury saw him called up to the Craven Week side. Nela’s start to 2020, perhaps gave him the best indication of exactly where his future lay, when he captained the SA U18 Sevens side to a victorious tournament in Namibia. But it was perhaps in 2019 where the foundations were laid, and his Sevens potential became apparent, as he won an inter-provincial 7’s tournament with the Sharks, earning the player of the tournament accolade in the process. 2020 was expected to be a big year for Nela as he was expected to form part of Hilton’s leadership group and having made the u17 EPD squad, would’ve fancied his chances for a Craven Week and SA Schools spot too. Latica is the nephew of former NWU-PUKKE Varsity Cup stalwart Akhona Nela, who also started off at Selborne before matriculating at Glenwood.
12. Damon Royle (Sharks):
Initially the story was all so different for Royle, as it seemed the now defunct Southern Kings had pulled off a major coup by securing the abrasive fetcher’s signature, in turn keeping one of the most wanted talents, in the region. But, after the liquidation of the union, the former Grey PE scholar found himself back in the shop window, and with no shortage of potential suitors, it didn’t take long for the Sharks to snap him up this time. Royle made a name for himself in the 2019 schoolboy rugby season, with his large frame and broad shoulders going down to secure a turnover, quickly becoming a trademark feature of matches he played. Royle did not play at the 2019 Craven Week, but was expected to play a big part for both school and region last year. Royle now heads to Durban with high expectations on his shoulders, and would be hoping to challenge another former Grey P.E Old Boy Siya Kolisi in the near future.
11. Liyema Mgwigwi (Cheetahs):
The Komani-born hooker, is one of only two players not to have signed with the Sharks or Lions on this list. Having represented Border at the 2018 Grant Khomo Week, Mgwigwi followed that up with a place in the Queens College 1st XV in 2019. His impressive performances for the school earned him a starring role for the Border Academy week side. The stocky youngster has often caught the eye with his physique and position defying handling and passing skills, which are more synonymous with the attacking and flair filled rugby style of the Border region. Those attributes would’ve no doubt, influenced the Cheetahs into securing his services, but formed part of his reasoning for turning down three other options, citing the attacking brand of rugby the Free State side plays as a pull factor. Mgwigwi was named captain of Queens College for 2020, and was also expected to be in contention, together with Jordan Mcloughlin to succeed Goosen as Borders Craven Week hooker. The attention now, however, turns to being the eventual successor to Joseph Dweba in Bloemfontein.
10. Jordan Mcloughlin (Sharks):
The powerfully built hooker is a product of Selborne College. He is probably the most unlucky on the list, as after an impressive u16 campaign in 2018, which saw him play a key role for Border at Grant Khomo, he was largely expected to provide a stern test for the eventual SA Schools captain Jacque Goosen for a first team spot. However, with just 10 minutes gone of his first team debut in 2019, he snapped his ACL in what proved to be a season ending injury. Mcloughlin returned for the brief 2020 season, which he would’ve been hoping to use to make up for lost time, as well as remind the Border faithful, what he was capable of. He also had to prove he could fill the big boots of predecessor Goosen, who he will now reunite and resume competition with at the Sharks this year
9. Joshua Van Vreden (Lions):
An out and out fetcher who is built exactly for the job he does with aplomb. A product of the prestigious Selborne College in East London, Van Vreden took the Border region rugby fraternity by storm, with his mammoth performances in 2019. Already known for his aggressive nature, at u16 level where he starred for Border at Grant Khomo Week, he took it up a notch the next year, forming a crucial loose forward partnership with SA Schools flanker Jarrod Taylor, for the Black and White Dogs of War. These performances would see the two combine again to great effect for Border at the Craven Week where Van Vreden would earn SA Schools A selection. He was widely tipped to carry the 2020 Selborne side on his shoulders, before the pandemic, with many expecting him to graduate to the SA Schools side too. However, he had already done enough in 2019 to earn himself a contract at the Lions.
8. Katlego Thinyane (Sharks).
Another of the Eastern Cape contingent to have found home in the KZN region. The East London-born winger started his schooling at Gonubie Primary, before making the step up to Stirling High School. It was at Stirling where his rugby took off, making a name for himself as a skillful flyhalf. However, it would still be a surprise when one of the biggest schools in the country, in Glenwood came calling for Thinyane, despite him not having played provincially. He would then arrive in grade 10 and have to bide his time the next year, before a switch of position to wing would grant the lanky youngster a new lease on life. That’s a lease he never once let go off, as despite once again, being overlooked for provincial colours, he still made enough for an impression for Glenwood, to get a contract at the Sharks Thinyane’s provincial situation was expected to change in 2020, with a lot expected from him by both Glenwood and Sharks coaches. However, his focus now shifts to proving his point as an underdog at the Sharks Academy.
7. Josh Jonas (Lions):
The bulky inside centre has been somewhat of a revelation for both Hudson Park High School and Border Rugby. Jonas’s rapid rise began with his stellar performances for Border at the 2018 Grant Khomo, having already proven himself to be a menace at u16 level for Hudson. Upon his return from the tournament, the first team coaches at the school, could no longer hold the East London native back, unleashing him in the red and white first team colours for his debut. The abrasive yet skillful hard runner would only continue to grow in physical size, which coincided with the growth in stature of his name locally and nationally. In his grade 11 year, 2019 he predictably already formed part of the senior contingent for Hudson, being a focal point of their side. He proved to not only be a player to watch for opponents, but scouts as well, with an impressive Craven Week not only earning him EPD selection, but also a contract at the Lions where he will hope to develop further. Jonas and his Hudson teammates would’ve felt most aggrieved with the cancelation of schoolboy rugby last year, as Hudson seemed to put together a seriously talented side with massive forwards and skillful backs. Jonas is yet another shining light from a Hudson rugby program which has continued to become more competitive.
6. Brandon Wilkie (Sharks):
One of eight Framesby boys who formed part of the EP 2019 Craven Week side, Wilkie showed his versatility at the tournament by playing at inside centre. However, it is at flyhalf where Wilkie made his name, and perhaps feels the most comfortable and that is where he was expected to play a crucial role for both Framesby and EP in 2020 before the pandemic struck. Not all was lost, however, as Wilkie had already secured a contract with the Sharks, through his 2019 performances. The man who was named skipper for Framesby last year has already started this one on a high note, with news of his selection to the SA Academy last week. This alone represents significant progress for the Gqeberha-born youngster, having not made any national side in 2019. It also signals that SA Rugby potentially have big plans for him.
5. Sihlalo Benge (Lions):
Komani-born flyhalf Benge was one of two stand out players in a 2019 Queens College side that flattered to deceive. The stocky pivot’s performances secured his place in the Craven Week side that year, making that squad on the bench as he entered the tournament nursing an ankle injury. Benge would quickly prove his credentials coming off the bench, and would eventually get his start, even proving his versatility by slotting in at inside centre he would then go on to catch the eye of the SA Schools A selectors and would eventually impress in the Green and Gold as well. Benge who is a powerful running, aggressive player was named as the Queens vice-captain last year. The pandemic meant he wouldn’t get many games in that capacity, but his sweet left foot and handling /passing skillset had already secured his future as he was swiftly snapped up by the Lions. Benge was widely expected to graduate to the SA schools team last year, and there are high hopes on his shoulders from the Border region rugby faithful, having represented it as far back as u13 level.
4. Siviwe Zondani (Sharks):
Originally from Makhanda, the speedstar found home in neighbouing Gqeberha, where he formed part of the prestigious Grey High School 1st XV. Zondani made his 1st XV debut in 2018 as a 16 year-old and has not looked back since. In 2019 he formed a more prominent part in the side, predictably and took it a step further, by gaining selection to the EP Craven Week side in 2019. It is widely believed that he would’ve returned for EP at last year’s Craven Week but unfortunately it was cancelled. He did, however find himself playing some footy in 2020, starting with a victorious Sevens tournament campaign for SA U18 Sevens side. He then showed real promise at the Graeme College festival with a good performance against Brandwag. Zondani’s 2019 form had already caught the eye at the Sharks who have since contracted the flyer
3. Sisonke Vumazonke (Lions):
The Cala-born, Welkom raised loose forward Vumazonke will go down in the history books as Grey College’s first ever captain of colour. The hard running flanker admittedly found it tough adapting to life at Grey College having made a controversial third term move to Bloemfontein from Welkom Gimnasium in his grade 8 year. At the age of 15 Vumazonke was in perhaps, the strangest situation known to schoolboy rugby, where after he had made the Cheetahs u16 Grant Khomo side, still found himself playing half a game for the Grey College u15B side. That prompted him to eventually quit the sport, before re-emerging in their 15D side to many a raised eyebrow. But his u16 year would prove to be the catalyst to his eventual success, as he returned to the Grant Khomo side and then formed part of the Grey 1st XV in his grade 11 year and would’ve been the schools captain before Covid-19 struck last year. He still managed to make both Craven Week and SA Schools A in 2019. His athletic ability has previously proven to be both a gift and curse for him as he has often been shifted between both forwards and backline. He has now successfully chosen flank, and that is where the Lions will be hoping to get the best of him in years to come.
2. Siyambuka Ningiza (Sharks):
One of the greatest schoolboy rugby stories belongs to this young man right here. Ningiza defied all odds to make the Border Grant Khomo Week side from an unfancied Port Rex Technical school in 2018. He would then take it a level higher at that particular tournament, putting in some monstrous performances that had union and school scouts taking a closer look at the East London native. In the end, it was Maritzburg College that would manage to convince them, and boy did they reap the rewards. The towering Ningiza became a key member of Maritzburg College, which then earned him Sharks Craven Week colours in 2019. After the tournament he made the EPD u17 squad and was largely earmarked for SA Schools selection in 2020. Ningiza is an interesting blend of lock/flank and flyhalf/centre the way he combines his obvious physicality and abrasiveness, with his impress skill set. It is therefore, perhaps no coincide that his role model is Sonny Bill Williams. That should excite the Sharks faithful, as Ningiza put pen to paper for the union last year with a lot being expected from him going forward. As he would say “Remember the name”.
1. Okuhle Siyeni (Lions):
The loosehead prop turned a few heads when he decided to leave Dale College in his hometown of Qonce, in search of pastures greener at Westville Boys High School, ahead of his u18 year in 2019. However, that move would prove to yield fruitful results, as the former Border player quickly immersed himself into his new surroundings in Durban. His adaptation coincided with him impressing the coaches at both school and provincial level, as Siyeni swiftly became a vital cog in both Westville and Sharks 2019 Craven Week sides. Standout performances at the tournament hosted in Bloemfontein earned him SA Schools selection. At 19, he would’ve not been eligible to play another year of Craven Week, but he was expected to play a massive role once again for Westville. He, however, can claim solace at the fact that his exploits in the yesteryear would’ve already secured his future, with the Lions snapping him up right under the Sharks noses. From not even being a Craven Week player in 2018 to being the only SA Schools player on the list? pretty impressive stuff.