The Cell C Sharks will benefit from the youth policy employed during the 2019 rugby season when going into Vodacom Super Rugby in 2020.
Continuity is key in any sport and giving opportunities to young players ensures that a team is able to fill in gaps left by departing players and provide home grown talent the chance to excel. The Cell C Sharks showed in 2019 that they were not afraid to back the youngsters that this will continue going into the new season.
The Cell C Sharks will boast further continuity in the coaching department with the retention of Sean Everitt for Vodacom Super Rugby, a coach who has worked with these youngsters, some of them over the course of three competitions.
A successful 2018 junior campaign was not just important for the Cell C Sharks Under 19 side and individual players to prove their worth in a national tournament, but it provided the pipeline for the stars to make the next step to the senior ranks for The Sharks.
2019 has seen the emergence of a host of young, talented players who have shown their desire and ability on the rugby field. Having gone through the SA Rugby Under 19 Championship competition last year unbeaten all the way to the final and the winners’ trophy, some of these players then stepped up at Super Sport Rugby Challenge level while others gained Vodacom Super Rugby experience, earning their debuts at the highest level of franchise rugby.
A number of them subsequently starred for South Africa at the World Rugby Under 20 competition recently held in Argentina where the Baby Boks beat the hosts to finish in third spot.
Following the conclusion of the Vodacom Super Rugby campaign, the Cell C Sharks lost a host of players to the Springbok Rugby World Cup cause and to overseas contracts, leaving the team needing to fill in a number of gaps. This has necessitated bringing in experienced players in certain positions to counter that loss, although this certainly does not close the door to young players, as in 2019.
More than half the side that started the Vodacom Super Rugby quarter-final against the Brumbies was unavailable to coach Sean Everitt for the opening Currie Cup match just a few weeks later and while the time struggled initially, they put together a strong charge to the semi-finals.
This was in spite of the youth and inexperience at this level for a number of players who were thrown into the deep end and who showed a propensity for podium finishes.
Phepsi Buthelezi, the Cell C Sharks Under 19 and SA Under 20 captain, hailing from DHS was an example of a player who stepped up and was counted. He made his senior debut in Vodacom Super Rugby before featuring in all seven Currie Cup matches during the campaign and gaining the sixth-most playing minutes of the 32-man squad.
Others to feature in Vodacom Super Rugby for the first time included Fezo Mbatha (Maritzburg College), Kerron van Vuuren and JJ van der Mescht (Glenwood High School) and Dylan Richardson (Kearsney College).
More recently, Sanele Nohamba, Buthelezi’s team-mate at DHS, also featured in seven Currie Cup matches, a number of them off the bench before getting an opportunity to start and then earning the Man of the Match award for his first two starts in the number nine jersey.
Other locally schooled players – Dylan Richardson, Kerron van Vuuren and Khutha Mchunu (Glenwood High School) – all played important roles, as did the other KZN youngsters who represented the Cell C Sharks U/21 team.
These youngsters have all enjoyed opportunities at the highest level and above all, received the backing of their coach and the franchise. Their experiences in 2018 and 2019 can only benefit them and add to the firepower available to the Cell C Sharks in the 2020 and beyond.