LACKING proper equipment and having to train on an overgrown field has not stopped a Nelson Mandela Bay high school rugby team from excelling to such an extent that it will feature as part of a new Springbok TV advertisement.
New Brighton’s Ithembelihle High School rugby players have worked hard to build the school’s reputation as one of the city’s most competitive schools.
Besides little funding for kit, the overgrown field makes hosting other schools nearly impossible.
The man behind the school’s success is Theo Pieterse. He has been Ithembelihle’s coach for the past 33 years and relishes helping young players who face challenges.
“I work with, hands down, some of the most talented guys you have ever seen before in your life,” Pieterse said.
Since starting as a rugby coach at the school in 1979, Pieterse’s teams have taken home multiple awards and trophies.
“I always have a very good team,” he said. “Word spreads when a team does really well and I have had players transfer to us from King William’s Town, Durban and Grahamstown.”
As part of a new public relations project for Springbok rugby, several of Pieterse’s players were filmed in action for the advert.
He said: “Ja, Saru [SA Rugby Union] got in touch with me and arranged to come out and film my boys out on the field for the day. It was quite something. They got here in the morning and only wrapped up at 5pm.”
The advert features shots of schools and amateur rugby players, interspersed with footage of Springbok players.
The public relations representative for the project, Kirsti Lyall, said the campaign would try to “create a feeling of inclusiveness, and bring the players closer to their supporters”.
“The new payoff line to go with this campaign is ‘Our honour, our heritage. The Springboks play every day’,” Lyall said.
Despite the Ithembelihle team’s successes and their recognition, the school has struggled to budget money for field maintenance and new equipment.
“They have nothing,” Lyall said. “Their field is overgrown and not fit to host any matches. There is very little money to buy kit, balls and transport to get to the games.
“Among these hardships, Theo Pieterse still manages to find success. The boys at his school want to play rugby. They take these hurdles in their stride where others would see them as dead-ends.”
Pieterse said: “My players love it. We play all sorts of different festivals. Still, when we get donations like the recent gym which Saru donated to us, it helps a lot.
“When the cameraman arrived to film us for our shots in the ad, he was shocked at our field.”