He might have been described as a diamond by his new coach, but the move by Lizo Gqoboka (25) to the Blue Bulls says a lot about what is wrong with South African rugby.
Gqoboka, a sturdy 115kg prop who has managed to stand out in the morass that is Eastern Province rugby, has been lured to Pretoria.
His reasons for leaving his Xhosa heartland are good – not least that Kings players were either not being paid their salaries or had to wait until well after the end of the month before their pay cheques were deposited.
That alone would have been enough to convince a young man with plenty of talent to head north, but the facilities at Loftus and the chance to play in a strong team (if the Bulls again reach the heights of a few years ago) would have helped make up his mind.
His new coach, Nollis Marais, who will be going into his first season of Super Rugby next year, called Gqoboka a diamond – although a block of coal might have been a better description, as he is not yet the finished product – and predicted the man would soon be a Springbok.
One can only wish the strapping player well, as his is a wonderful rags-to-riches story.
Hailing from Ntabankulu near Mount Frere, he went to the local school and did not come into contact with rugby until he went to Durban to study human resources management. Through friends and circumstance, he ended up at Durban Collegians.
His size and athleticism were ideal for rugby, rather than soccer, his preferred sport up to then, and he took to the rough-and-tumble game with gusto.
A friend got him a tryout with the EP Kings in Port Elizabeth, and soon he was offered a contract with the union.
So, unlike so many top senior players, Gqoboka did not come up through the schools system. He has no national Under-19 or Under-20 caps, normally a prerequisite for later honours, and the closest he’s been to the Springboks is being invited to train with the Boks by Heyneke Meyer – which might account for the Blue Bulls connection.
However, Gqoboka’s march to Pretoria is exactly what should not be happening with the Kings and South African rugby.
A player with his background should have been able to stay in the Eastern Cape to become a role model to others.
He should have been able to play for his local side, have success with them and reach for his dream of being a Springbok while in the land of his roots.
The Bulls have also enticed the outstanding young winger Luther Obi to move to Loftus, and have their sights on Tim Agaba, Thembelani Bholi and Sylvian Mahuza.
The Eastern Province Under-19 side recently won their first national age-group title with a team that was beyond fully transformed and it’s very likely these players are having contracts waved under their noses by the big unions.
The SA Rugby Union (Saru) is starting to crack the whip on transformation targets and the Bulls, representing a region where not many black schools play rugby, have the cash to improve their numbers.
It is also the case in other unions, other than in the Cape, and the Bulls probably feel they have pulled off something of a coup by raiding the Kings’ trove before Saru steps in to manage the troubled franchise.
Sadly, it should not have happened. Real transformation will only happen once unions start to produce home-grown talent by introducing rugby in black schools and nurturing the talent that is undoubtedly there.
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