WHAT is the blueprint for all parents to follow when their children are wide-eyed, looking to make their way in an increasingly murky world?
For reference one need look no further than current Sharks first-choice scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer, who has been making waves in restoring KZN fans’ much-loved faith in attacking rugby.
Where did it begin for this young man-once-boy? What was the nature of the journey?
If ever an aspiring youngster was blessed with great mentors and excellent examples, it has to be Ungerer, whose love for sparking attacks appears to be DNA-borne.
Ungerer’s paternal grandfather, Prop Ungerer, played first XV scrumhalf for “Bobbies” (Maritzburg Police) with great distinction for over 20 years.
“Since age three Stefan wanted to catch and pass,” says Proppie. “He would say in the many winter days at Woodburn, ‘Oupa, we must pass and catch now,’ while a club match was on the go.
“Since his dad, my son Jacques, passed away tragically two years ago in September, I think of his dad’s contribution to the Stefan we see today. In my era, the spin pass was not a skill, and Jacques was an expert who spent many hours teaching the technique to his son.
“I believe Stefan has the best scrumhalf pass in the world. And the will to succeed. As a little boy, Stefan said, ‘Oupa, I want to be a Springbok’.”
For two decades in the KZN capital, dad Jacques was a brilliant scrumhalf who never received the recognition he deserved. An SA U20 player so far, son Stefan might go all the way.
Long-standing Pelham Primary first team rugby manager Wayne van Rensburg said his abiding memory of Ungerer was the young boy’s character. “Stefan had many attributes but what stuck out for me was his never-say-die commitment. Whether Pelham were behind or in front on the scoreboard Stefan gave nothing less than 100%.”
The manager’s comments were echoed by Ungerer’s Pelham coach Louis Botha, the doyen of KZN primary school rugby who mentored the first team for decades while the long-time principal at Pelham, and who is now Maritzburg U14 rugby coaching co-ordinator.
“Stefan could control a game. I used to say, ‘Stefan, ons soek ’n bietjie magic’, and he would change the flow. He participated in every aspect of school life. What sticks out was the support of his family. His grandparents Proppie and Val never missed a match, they never missed a practice either.
“Stefan’s parents, Jacques and mom Denise and grandparents supported wholeheartedly, but never pushed Stefan. His family watched hundreds of matches and events in various sporting codes. And they gave the same support to Stefan’s younger sister, Chanelle. The parental role is crucial, as is the schools’ role,” said Botha.
Ungerer was a senior prefect at primary and high school, head day boy in Grade 12 at Maritzburg College and captained teams from the start at Pelham through to the Maritzburg College first XV.
He earned Natal rugby colours all the way through and was a fine all-round sports player who hit a cricket ball a mile and a solid academic to boot.
“What stuck out for me,” said his Maritzburg College first team and U16 coach Piet Snyman, “was his ability to read a game. I remember against KES in Johannesburg when in Grade 11, as he came to a ruck he told the loose forwards to drop back before releasing the ball to the wing in the space he had created.”
A Bulls contract came in his senior school years, then a Sharks contract as the adoration was immense. When Stefan lost his beloved father while in his late teens, the solid school and family foundation proved priceless.
“You can’t put a price on the role my family played in my development,” he said. “It’s something for which I am eternally grateful. It keeps me focused.”
Ungerer talked of the Maritzburg College rugby culture within the sports code.
“We played for our mates. It’s like with Lionel Cronjé [current Sharks flyhalf], we are mates on and off the field, we are always communicating, playing for each other and the team. Maritzburg College players eat, sleep and drink the game. I loved it thanks to my College coaches, Mr Sutherland, Mr la Marque and Mr Snyman.
“Against favoured teams it was our College attacking spirit that pulled us through.”
His advice for today’s youngsters — “Whatever you do, natural talent only takes you so far. It’s the hard work you do that takes you to the next level.”