EP Rugby Academy gets lifeline

Kempson awaits confirmation of funding after frantic efforts to keep doors open

The EP Rugby Academy will live to fight another year after frantic behind-the scenes fundraising and urgent community talks had seen it raise enough money to keep going.

News of the academy possibly having to shut down sent shock waves around the region after the SA Rugby Union (Saru) pulled the plug on its funding.

“Nothing is official yet, but I’ve been working in conjunction with Charl Crous [Southern Kings’ chief operating officer],” EP Academy manager Robbi Kempson said yesterday.

“Nothing has been confirmed, but we may have potentially managed to hold on to what players are left and continue with the academy into next year.”

An amount of about R4-million a year is required for the academy to run at top level.

Saru has been pouring money into certain affiliates in recent years, including the beleaguered EP Rugby Union (EPRU), and the coffers may be running on empty.

EPRU’s Saru administrator, Monde Tabata, said two weeks ago the national body was seeking outside investors to fund the academies. But there has been no news regarding that.

“This hasn’t been just involving myself and Charl Crous, we’ve been very happy to have guys like Daron Mann [AlgoaFM DJ] and businessman Dave Gardner spreading the awareness of our plight,” Kempson said.

The academy not only focuses on rugby excellence, but excellence in academics as well.

“First and foremost, it is a priority the player should be able to play, and to ensure we can look after them and give them the best opportunities is always foremost in our minds,” he said.

Under the guidance of former Springbok prop Kempson and his staff, the EP Academy has become the most successful in South Africa, with 42 full-time professional players of colour coming through its ranks in the last three years.

“Generally speaking, we contract players for three years. The agreement is that they play and get their degrees in those three years,” Kempson said.

Players who have come up through the ranks and made a name in South African rugby include the likes of Sergeal Petersen and Lizo Gqoboka, who joined the Springbok ranks recently, while Siviwe Soyizwapi made it into the SA Sevens set-up.

The recent SA U20 captains, Jeremy Ward and Junior Pokomela, are from the academy.

With the rugby season having concluded, the focus has shifted to recruitment and preseason training as the academy looks towards readying for the Varsity Cup and Young Guns competition.

“Quite a few of our players have a very good relationship with NMMU so they will be playing in the Varsity Cup.

“For the new intake, which will be from January 2, we’ll be getting the boys ready for the Young Guns competition,” Kempson said.