The 1968 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa may not have been a victorious rugby adventure, but it proved to be the training ground for some of the game’s greatest rugby legends. Following the tour, the likes of Sir Gareth Edwards, Willie-John McBride and Barry John went on to household fame throughout the rugby world.
Above: The best try of all time was scored by Sir Gareth Edwards
Visiting South Africa again mid-June to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their tour, it was with pride that the MasiCorp/MCC Masi 750 Sports Club partnership hosted the players and their wives on 19th June. It was a cold windy day, but miraculously the rain held off. A brief tour of the Masicorp Learning Labs and some traditional dance by the school children was followed by a handover of gifts and the presentation of the future plans for the sports facilities build, on site.
Above: Rugby legends line up with Ukhanyo kids outside the school
Former Welsh utility back Billy Raybould explained: “In ‘68 we were shown Pelindaba (South Africa’s state of the art nuclear energy facility at the time) and met with Dr. Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur. We were only shown what the country wanted us to see.” Indeed, times were different then, and the ’68 touring team wanted to see grassroots rugby development in the South African townships.
Ukhanyo Primary School in Masiphumelele township near Fish Hoek, with its burgeoning 1,970 learners, demonstrated the ability of all sport to genuinely transform the kids, the staff, and the community by building their self-confidence, teamwork, discipline and by embracing their sheer exuberance and joy of competing and self-learning. Rugby legends, including our very own Morne du Plessis, spoke about not just the talent of the rugby, cricket, netball and athletics teams but their liveliness, determination and positive approach to life and sport. “The transforming ability of sport is remarkable – I was blown away” Morne remarked.
Masicorp has, over the past two years installed a new netball court, a sprint track and, recently, three astro-turf cricket nets. In turn, The MCC Masi 750 Club project, driven by another sporting legend Vince van der Bijl, has entrenched a full sports development programme with 17 coaches, 6 sports codes, Ukhanyo branded kit, equipment, transport money (as no home fixtures except for netball), official school fixtures for the first time in all sport and every one of the 17 school teams has a dedicated coach.
A glaring hole is apparent though. There are no playing fields at Ukhanyo. Rugby is practiced on asphalt!!
Above: Rugby on asphalt hones the handling skills!
A rough and tumble, weed-strewn piece of veld lies within the school grounds, dormant and waiting to be transformed. Plans have been drawn up for two multi-purpose courts for rugby, cricket and netball with the hope of expanding to include basketball and hockey. Together with the soccer pitch, fencing, lights and a sports centre, the total cost is estimated at R8m. It is planned to build the first surface in the spring!
As Head Sports Coach at Ukhanyo, Nceba Jonas, says: “We use sport to teach respect for oneself; respect for your opponent; confidence and a sense of self-worth. The life-skills we teach produces holistic rounded sportspeople”
This facility will in time be used not only by the primary school, but also by learners at Masiphumelele High School and as practice facilities for the whole community. At present there are no such practice facilities.
Above: We need a soccer pitch!
The visit by the British & Irish Lions has allowed the profile of the project to be elevated and friendships to be built that could leverage support for its objectives in both South Africa and abroad. It was a quite a day! Sporting legends embracing and being embraced by everyone, Ukhanyo kids, sports coaches and staff. The Springbok Atlas coach drove gingerly through the narrow streets of Masi, being welcomed with waves and smiles by the whole community!
After a tour of Masiphumelele and Ukhanyo Primary School, the players shared their skills and rugby stories during a practice session at the Rugby Club with both Masi and Langa Under-13 rugby players, before being entertained to traditional South African hospitality with a lunch in the Clubhouse and an overview of the sport project’s plan and aspirations.