The SA Rugby Academy players were beaming with excitement and enthusiasm on Friday as the squad returned to the training field in Stellenbosch for the first time in more than a year.

A group of close to 30 players assembled at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport on Wednesday, while another eight squad members are set to join next week.

The Academy kicked off on Thursday with strength and fitness testing, and the players had their first light field training session on Friday, with the aim of phasing them back into full contact rugby over the course of the programme.

Four players – DHL Western Province flyhalf Kade Wolhuter and the Vodacom Bulls’ Jan-Hendrik Wessels (prop), Canan Moodie (centre) and Reinhardt Ludwig (lock) – are currently training with their respective senior provincial squads and will join the Academy at a later stage. Corne Weilbach (DHL WP prop) and Keanan Galant (Vodacom Bulls fullback), meanwhile, were forced to withdraw due to back and knee injuries respectively.

These developments resulted in four additional players being invited to train with the squad. They are Nolan Pienaar (Vodacom Bulls prop), Lamla Nunu (DHL WP prop), Corne Rahl (Cell C Sharks lock) and Jordan Hendrikse (Xerox Lions flyhalf). “We are very excited,” said Junior Springbok coach Bafana Nhleko. “We followed all the COVID-19 protocols to make sure we are in line with the regulations, both from a government and SA Rugby perspective, and the attitude and excitement from the boys has been fantastic. “I asked a few players when last they played, and one of them said March 2019 and another August 2019, so one can imagine their excitement to be back on the field and to be part of this system, so we are looking forward to it.”

Nhleko said the players would be phased into full contact training as the camp progresses in line with SA Rugby’s return-to-play guidelines for age-group rugby. “We are lucky that most of the players have been with their unions doing non-contact training, but part of our process in the next three days and next week as well, is to make sure we focus on the non-contact part of things and to provide clarity on our detail,” said Nhleko.

“We will also assess where they are from a physical conditioning point of view and determine their skill levels. We will then slowly reintegrate with some body work with assistance from the strength and conditioning staff, and perhaps some tackle bag work later on before we advance to full contact.”

The SA Rugby Academy programme – supported by corporates through the Rugby Educational Foundation (REF) and Academy sponsors, Remgro (through the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport) and SuperSport – was launched in 2017 and aims to balance formal education with high performance training and player welfare. The 2021 programme will run until 30 June.

Updated SA Rugby Academy squad:

Props: Blaine Golden (Cell C Sharks), Okuhle Siyeni (Xerox Lions), Tielman Nieuwoudt (Vodacom Bulls), Lamla Nunu (DHL Western Province), Nolan Pienaar (Vodacom Bulls), Sibusiso Shongwe (Xerox Lions), Jan-Hendrik Wessels (Vodacom Bulls).

Hookers: Jacques Goosen (Cell C Sharks), Andre-Hugo Venter (DHL Western Province), Lukhanyo Vokozela (DHL Western Province).

Locks: Connor Evans, Dylan de Leeuw (both DHL Western Province), Reinhardt Ludwig (Vodacom Bulls), Simon Miller (DHL Western Province), Corne Rahl (Cell C Sharks).

Loose forwards: George Cronje (Toyota Cheetahs), Wandile Hlophe (Xerox Lions), Keketso Morabe (DHL Western Province), Rynard Mouton (Vodacom Bulls), Siyemukela Ndlovu (Xerox Lions), Siyambuka Ningiza (Cell C Sharks), Jarrod Taylor (DHL Western Province), Sisonke Vumazonke (Xerox Lions).

Scrumhalves: Bobby Alexander (DHL Western Province), Bradley Davids (Cell C Sharks), Nico Steyn (Xerox Lions).

Flyhlaves: Jordan Hendrikse (Xerox Lions), Sacha Mngomezulu (DHL Western Province), Brandon Wilkie (Cell C Sharks), Kade Wolhuter (DHL Western Province).

Centres: Carlton Bannies (Vodacom Bulls), Tyler Bocks (Xerox Lions), Mnqobi Mkhize (Cell C Sharks), Canan Moodie (Vodacom Bulls), Zeilinga Strydom, Henco van Wyk (both Xerox Lions).

Outside backs: Dalvon Blood (SA Rugby contracted/DHL Western Province), Geraldo Flusk (Vodacom Bulls), Curwin Gertse (Cell C Sharks), Matthew Jacobs (Cell C Sharks), Duran Koevort (DHL Western Province), Mtungwa Mapantsela (Cell C Sharks), Keanan Wentzel (Vodacom Bulls).

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