By George Byron
WITH Super Rugby looming and a desperate need to breed a new generation of stars, the EP Kings are running a "boot camp” at the Piet Retief army base in Humewood.
Ten members of the EP Rugby Academy, who are affectionately known as the "brothers” by their teammates, live in the barracks at the Piet Retief base as they bid to fulfil their dream of becoming full-time professional rugby players.
‘The guys living at the base are all out-of towners from the King William’s Town area and Uitenhage,” said EP Academy manager Robbi Kempson.
"Being a military base they have to abide by the rules of the camp so the discipline is strict. They have had their hot water cut off quite a few times for things like walking on the grass.
"So the discipline is good because some of them might need it,” said Kempson who played 37 tests for the Springboks.
"There is a guard on the gate at all times, but they are free to come and go as they please as long as they present their identity documents.”
Kempson said though the base was not a hotel, the players had plenty of home comforts like a common room, satellite television and access to the internet.
"It really is a great facility for them and all their meals are provided. It has a boxing ring, which we use at the start of the season for early season fitness drills,” said Kempson.
With Super Rugby on the horizon, EP will be hoping that Kempson and his assistant manager, Gareth Wright, are able to start producing a string of players capable of holding their own in the professional ranks.
"The only reason this academy was started was to breed the stars of the future. We have an outstanding bunch of players and if we did not believe they had the potential to graduate to the top flight they would not be at the academy,” said Kempson.
"We are very thankful that the Eastern Cape Academy of Sport and Shane Gerber of BLG Logistics have been a big help. BLG have helped us with meals, clothing and medical and school fees.”
Kempson and Wright strive to give the students as much one-as-one coaching as possible.
The academy runs under-19 and under-21 teams and has 31 players on their books.
Kempson said it was not all about rugby at the academy and that players had to study for a degree or a diploma.
"We aim to produce well-rounded individuals.
"Their performance is rated on education and rugby and if they waver in the education we have the right to cancel their contracts.
An average day for students at the academy, apart from study, consisted of a one-hour gym session, a 45-minute video session and a 90-minute training session.
At present 55% of the academy is made up of players of colour, and Kempson expects that figure to rise to 65% when the next intake of players arrive.
"The strength of the academy is much better this year than last year and I am confident it will get better and better.
"For us to produce Bok players in the space of two years is practically impossible. Over a period of time I have no doubt that there will be a natural progression of talent that will progress through to the top ranks.
"As this happens I have no doubt that the Kings senior team will also become representative of the demographics of the region.”
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, September 1, 2012.