Nompilo Kunene
Senior online journalist
4 minute read
17 Feb 2020

Rugby is his life’s passion

Nompilo Kunene

Instead of falling into despair after realising there were no rugby teams willing to take him in around his community, a Lidgetton teenager decided to start his own rugby team with boys from his township

Instead of falling into despair after realising there were
no rugby teams willing to take him in around his community, a Lidgetton
teenager decided to start his own rugby team with boys from his township.

Shaun Khenyeza (18), a Grade 11 pupil at Jabula Combined
School, told Weekend Witness that he realised his passion for rugby last year.

“I visited a friend and we played rugby in his backyard. I
really enjoyed the game and wanted to play more,” he said.

In June last year, Khenyeza said he decided to visit some of
the elite schools around his community to ask if he could join their rugby
teams or train with them but was told he couldn’t as he was not part of the
schools’ communities.

“After being turned away, I decided that it was fine, and I
would start my own team with some of the guys in the township but many of them
were not interested so I decided to train by myself.

“For the first three months I practised my kicking and
running all by myself. Then one Thursday in September, five boys decided to
join me. The next day I was joined by 27 boys.

“During the Rugby World Cup season, many of the guys in the
neighbourhood joined us because they were exposed to the game as everyone was
talking about it,” he said.

The young man, who lives with his mother and cousins, said
when he visited one of the schools, Michaelhouse, he was told to leave his
contact details. A short while later, he received a call from one of the
teachers, Peter Stevens, who offered to support him in his venture.

“Mr Stevens gave me the rugby ball that my team-mates and I
use in practise, as a birthday gift.

“That ball was the first gift I had ever received in my
life,” he said.

The self-taught rugby player said he uses YouTube videos and
watches rugby matches on television to familiarise himself with the sport.

His team, Lions United, usually train on Fridays and on
Saturday mornings on the fields at Penny Lane Guest House, which is a
five-minute walk from the township and is also away from all the mocking eyes
in their township.

“I am not an expert in the sport but when I train my
team-mates, it’s also a learning opportunity for me.”

Khenyeza said when schools closed at the end of last year,
many boys from his team never returned to play rugby and some didn’t even
return to school because they were caught up in alcohol and drug abuse during
the holidays.

The team now has 21 active members, aged between 16 and 18
years old.

“It wasn’t nice losing some of the guys because I was
hopeful that the team could help keep us off the streets and teach us
discipline. I always tell them that this sport can help change all our lives as
we could go professional and get scholarships to study further.”

After matric, Khenyeza said he would like to study to become
a business adviser and go to a rugby academy.

Speaking to Weekend Witness, Stevens from Michaelhouse said
when Khenyeza visited the school to ask if he could get involved with the
school’s rugby team, they were all taken by him and his passion for the sport.

“I liked his approach and he is very polite. We would have
loved to bring him on board here at Michaelhouse but it’s quite difficult from
a legal point of view.”

Stevens said on Monday that Khenyeza is going on a level-one
coaching course at the school and the school has also signed him up for the
BokSmart National Rugby Safety Programme as well as a referee training
programme. The school has also organised for Khenyeza’s team to visit
Michaelhouse and play against the school’s team soon.

“He’s very mature for his age and a very humble young man. James
Flemming, who is the master in charge of rugby at the school, is also very
eager and keen to support Shaun, I am merely just the in between.”