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24 October 2013 Nine Academy players represented the Eastern Province under-19s this year which, after winning the Absa under-19 B competition, secured promotion to the A- division in 2014 after defeating Border in a promotion/relegation playoff. ‘A significant role’“There can be no doubt that the Kings Academy has played a significant role in the identification, development and retention of young up-and-coming players from the region,” said Crous. “The support and commitment from Saru, through their partnership with the Academy, has played an integral part in the successes achieved.” ChampionsIn their respective finals the EP under-21s – unbeaten in the league phase and knock-outs in 2013 – beat their Boland counterparts 59-19, while the EP under-19s defeated the Valke 56-40 in a high-scoring final. ‘A massive improvement’“The biggest positive impact the Academy made in the Boland, was the good performances by our under-19 and under-21 teams in their provincial competitions, with both qualifying for the playoff rounds and showing a massive improvement from 2012,” said Smal. “The performances of these teams this season is testament of the commitment and hard work that was done in those provinces, which are crucial in our identification and development of talented young players,” Saru CEO Jurie Roux said in a statement. “We’ve not only given them opportunities to play, but because our Academy is situated on the George campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the players also got the opportunity to study.” The CEO of Eastern Province Rugby, Charl Crous, said 19 of the 30 players currently enrolled at the Academy had played for the province’s under-U21 team, which narrowly missed out on being promoted to A-division after losing to Border in a playoff. SAinfo reporter and SA Rugby “We’re planning to increase this in the coming years as we aim to roll out the Saru Academy programme across all 14 provincial unions. We could already see in 2013 what a difference it made helping these players by improving the quality of their facilities and coaching, while we also focus on things like conditioning, injury treatment and rehabilitation, mentoring, nutrition, tertiary studies, life skills and good accommodation. Aim“Our aim is to ultimately help create a fully professional rugby player. In the long term, we’re aiming to produce 70 professional black players in the next four years, of which 25 will hopefully go on to play in Vodacom Super Rugby in five years’ time and by 2019, we’d like to see eight new black Springboks emerge from the Academy programme.” R18-million investedMervin Green, Saru’s general manager for development, said a total of R18-million was invested in equal portions across the four Academies this year. He also lauded Saru’s High Performance Mobi-Unit for the key role they played in ensuring the Academies had a good start in 2013. “It was great to see so many players come through and gain valuable experience on the playing field,” said Prinsloo. South Western Districts CEO Johan Prinsloo lauded the programme and said 19 Academy players featured for the Eagles at under-19, under-21, Vodacom Cup and Absa Currie Cup level this year. The Academies are funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and are located in areas that traditionally have high numbers of black players. During the 2013, season, five out of the eight positions in the knock-out phases of the Absa Currie Cup under-21 B and under-19 B competitions were filled by teams featuring players from Saru’s Academy Programme. Eastern Province won the Absa under-21 B and under-19 B divisions after winning their finals in Nelspruit. Rassie Erasmus, Saru General Manager for High Performance, said: “The feedback we’ve received on the involvement of the Mobi-Unit has been very good. We worked with all four Academies at least twice this year and were very well received. It was also good to interact with the coaches there.” In the U19 B division, Boland and South Western Districts made it to the semi- finals before being eliminated from the competition. “Out of our group of 30 Academy players, a total of 28 played for our junior teams, while Ashley Esau played one Vodacom Cup match for the senior team and a couple of players also trained with our senior Absa Currie Cup team.” Willie Smal, the CEO of Boland, said the Saru Academy allowed his union to retain a lot of the young talent in the province and made a massive difference in Boland’s junior teams’ results this year. “It was superb to see how the Academies and the provinces co-operated this year, and I believe that is one of the many reasons why they were so successful. I’m confident we’ll see the positive effect at a higher level in the next couple of seasons.” “Our return on investment in the first year was massive and we really got off to a very positive start this year,” said Green. The South African Rugby Union (Saru) on Thursday declared the first season of operation of its four Saru Rugby Academies – established last year in Border, Eastern Province, South Western Districts and Boland – a success.