Meet the elite rugby academy i

Meet the elite rugby academy in Khayelitsha doing its bit for transformation

Not backed by SARU or the Department of Sports and Recreation, this little academy has shown what is possible with a little bit of elbow grease.

Meet the elite rugby academy i

In 2014, the Connect Community Development Programme, which had been running entrepreneurship and intervention programmes in Khayelitsha for eight years, wanted to make a tangible impact on the South African sporting landscape. With transformation always a hot topic in the country and severely lagging behind, the choice to focus on rugby was a no-brainer.

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For Murray Ingram, a strength and conditioning coach with over 15 years’ experience in the industry and a co-founder of the project, the programme had to come with a long-term focus.

“When you look at the numbers of the elite sportsmen in South Africa, especially in rugby, they only come from a handful of schools. The coaching clinics that are run in disadvantaged areas are often about little more than parading numbers. We wanted to do more than that,” Ingram says.

The programme has only been going for two years, but has already achieved some impressive results with the Under 12s beating Paarl Boys and SACS at a recent Sevens tournament held at Bishops, while the U16s have overcome teams from Wynberg Boys’ High and Stellenberg in recent weeks.


All of these results were borne out of a small group of players from Khayelitsha playing touch rugby and learning basic skills. For the majority of the kids in the programme, rugby was a completely foreign sport and they had to start from scratch. The academy entered Touch Rugby leagues and, slowly but surely, it became apparent that there was a wealth of talent just waiting to be unleashed.


“Our long-term plan was always to make the step up to contact rugby, but this cannot happen overnight. When working from kids from disadvantaged backgrounds you have to consider things like providing kit, nutrition and top-class coaching. There are bucket loads of so-called natural talent, but that alone is not enough when you are competing with schools that have 10 rugby fields and top class coaches,” Ingram explains.

Undeterred, the academy pushed forward and in 2014 entered its first contact tournament. The youth teams impressed, going all the way to the semi-finals of an Atlantic Sevens
tournament, despite having never had any match-experience before.

The academy now boasts over 40 core players who are playing regular competitive fixtures against some of Cape Town’s top rugby schools and beyond. Connect ensures that all their nutritional, medical, coaching and kit needs are taken care of. There is a clubhouse in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, which also functions as a gym and tutoring centre, where all players eat together and hit the weights with specialised programmes to ensure they get on a level-footing with players from elite schools.

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“We see our clubhouse as a central point and we’re currently piloting it as a boarding house model to help us truly move into the elite academy space,” Ingram explains.

Connect has achieved all of this without the support from South African corporates, Sport and Recreation Department or the South African Rugby Union.

“The biggest chunk of our funding has come from overseas. We have found that it is difficult to get buy-in into such a long-term, holistic programme. This is not a one-off photo op coaching clinic, this is the coalface of transformation, but it costs a lot of money,” Ingram says.

The academy would like to purchase its own bus to make transportation easier as relying on public transport and taxis can be cumbersome and financially wasteful. It would like to expand its clubhouse to allow more players to board there and follow a nutritional plan dedicated to that player’s needs.

“What we have achieved in just two years on a miniscule budget is really quite remarkable. Who knows what we would be capable of with more financial support. There is no doubt in my  mind that there’s enough black talent in South Africa to have a comprehensively transformed team by the time the 2023 Rugby World Cup comes around, we just need to find and nurture that talent properly,” Ingram adds.