Koen: Young stars must persevere

Despite a year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, former Springbok flyhalf Louis Koen insists there is hope for young players who have missed out on certain opportunities in 2020, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Koen, who serves as SA Rugby high performance manager and coach, recently chatted to SARugbymag.co.za in our continued collaboration with inspirational organisation UXI Sport.

WATCH: A message of hope for youngsters

Touching on the fact a number of youth competitions – including the U18 Craven Week – have been cancelled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Koen referenced the World Cup-winning Springbok squad as an example of how players in that group travelled unconventional roads to the top.

‘We can’t use a word to summarise the impact the Springboks had last year, not only on youngsters or school boys who look up to them, but on the country as a whole. It was just unbelievable to see how they could inspire and bring people together. It’s maybe a bit of a cliche now, but it was phenomenal to see how the impact spread across the country like a wave.

‘It’s inspirational for young men to see a guy like Makazole Mapimpi, who came from a small rural school going on to play at the level he is now. Then there is Siya Kolisi, who was helped by someone to attend a well-known school. There are different ways for boys to excel and make it to the top. It’s a good-news story that there is an opportunity for everyone.

‘My message would be that the Springboks have shown that if you are really keen on wanting to make it, there are ways to make that dream happen. Don’t be broken-hearted or give up if you don’t make a Craven Week side, or don’t go to a big rugby school … sometimes you can take a different route to get to the top. The Boks have shown that there are different stories, with people from different backgrounds who found success from different avenues.

‘Something I would even tell my own son, if you get rejected at a certain level, don’t give up and keep on fighting because you never know when another opportunity might be around the corner.’

This point was echoed by new Vodacom Bulls forwards coach Russell Winter, who has served as head coach at the WP Rugby Academy.

‘To all the youngsters in matric and missing out on so much in their final year of school sport, I can only imagine how tough it must be. I remember how special my Grade 12 year was, it was something you all look forward to, with all the derby games and so much to look forward to.

‘But the 2020 generation must ensure they don’t lose hope, or let that define them. Covid mustn’t decide your pathway, it should only determine which direction you want to go. There will be highs and lows, but you just have to keep at it. If you believe you can, you will, but if you believe you can’t then you probably will be right.’

As it is, SA Rugby has reiterated how the youth programme is continuing in earnest despite this period of lockdown, while Koen highlighted how a planned U20 competition involving all the unions next year should be seen as an exciting prospect for up-and-coming players.

‘This year has presented a true test of character to persevere and for youngsters to show tenacity in shifting their goal posts to a new point, which will be the U20 year. There is time to prepare for that U20 competition, which I think will be the platform from which the Junior Springbok team will be selected …

‘That’s something new to look forward to, and try to represent your province in that U20 team, and then to try get in the mix for possible Junior Springbok selection and to represent your country at the Junior World Championship. What an opportunity that would be.’

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Craig Lewis