St Thomas School for the Deaf pupils shine for the SA Invitational team
Bulls take honours at Stones Cup
The inaugural Stones Cup Deaf rugby tournament came to an electrifying end on Saturday afternoon, with the Blue Bulls Deaf team emerging as the victors.
The tournament, named after current Daily Dispatch sub-editor Tim Stones due to his efforts in reviving deaf rugby in South Africa over the last decade, saw four teams, two from Western Province, one from Pretoria and an Invitational side, take part in it.
The Bulls side proved to be too strong for all of the teams, thumping the WP Thunder (A) Deaf team 45-12 in the opener, then crushing the WP Cyclones (B) Deaf 71-7 in the second game, before closing out with an emphatic 71-0 beating of the SA Deaf Invitational team in a match that was played as a curtainraiser to the Cheetahs Pro14 match against Ospreys.
The SA Deaf Invitational side, which featured a large contingent of players from the Border region, was coached by Skillie Bester from Free State, who enjoyed the inaugural showing of the competition.
“It is always a privilege to be involved with something like this. It makes you realise that things which are normal for most is completely different for others, and being involved with the coaching of the invitational team was a great experience,” said Bester.
“We had a very committed bunch of guys. When you take into consideration that they only came together as a team a few days before leaving for the tournament and then came to play big guys like the Bulls and Western Province, I think they did very well.”
The team just missed out on a win in the first match of the tournament, going down 15-12 to the Cyclones, before giving the Thunder a good fight in going down 27-18 in the second match, while they were no match for the Bulls in the finale.
Two of the players were named in the Stones Cup star squad at the end of the tournament – Franco Louw, from Free State, who also shared the captaincy, and Sibusiso Ntsila from King William’s Town.
“I didn’t expect the guys to do so well. We did not have any guys who were suited for the frontrow and stuff like that, but guys put up their hands and performed admirably,” said Bester.
“Two of the invitational players were selected for the dream team at the end of the tournament and I was very proud of that.”
Only two players, team captains Louw and Mark Barnard from KwaZulu-Natal, were not from the Border region in the invitational side, with most of the players coming from St Thomas School for the Deaf in King William’s Town.
The future is looking bright for the Border deaf rugby community as Stones is in charge of Border Deaf rugby, and it has a strong base of players from which to grow from.
“I am currently the chairperson of Border Deaf Rugby, and we have successfully managed in a very short time to identify and build one of the strongest player pools in SA,” said Stones.
“One of the things I am proudest of is that our player base is both 100% black African as well as, crucially, massively talented.
“I may be biased, but I honestly believe that many future national team players will come from Border, and their talent alone will help SA become one of the most competitive teams in international deaf rugby.
“Now that the tournament is over, I plan to further develop our structure, and start a programme to identify eligible players, based on level of hearing loss, not only at local schools for the deaf, but also going into mainstream clubs and schools, to conduct hearing screenings.
“This serves a dual purpose of building our player pool, while also potentially identifying hearing loss in players who might as a result be able to access resources and assistive devices that can help them hear better.”