Coaching, culture, camaraderie – how KDL won at rugby
King David High School Linksfield (KDHSL) is passionate about rugby, but last week was the first time the school brought home a major trophy in the sport. The school finished the rugby season on a high note with its first XI and under-14 team each being crowned champions of the Pirates School Challenge on 1 June.
“The rugby last Wednesday was an unbelievable achievement for our students,” said Principal Lorraine Srage. “We have certainly been knocking on the door for a couple of years and, of course, there was the hiatus of two years where there wasn’t any rugby. It just shows that we’re competitive. Our boys have got heart. They’re resilient, and often play against much bigger boys than they are. Magnificent.
“The fact that the under-14s won just shows there’s certainly a lot of talent which will continue after this particular first team finishes. A great achievement. I’m overwhelmed. For a Jewish school, we have done exceptionally well.”
Playing against Trinityhouse Randpark Ridge at Pirates Rugby Club in Johannesburg, KDHSL’s first XI won 15-12, and the under-14 team triumphed 23-17.
When these two KDHSL teams lifted their respective trophies last week, it marked the first-ever pieces of silverware the school has won in rugby, other than having won the B-section of this annual tournament before.
KDHSL has competed in the tournament for about seven or eight years. This year, the school played 11 matches comprising group stages and knockout rounds against large co-educational schools, including Rand Park High School, Krugersdorp High School, Fourways High School, and Bryanston High.
Asked what the key to KDHSL’s success was, David Jordaan, the director of rugby at KDHSL and coach of the first XI, said, “With COVID-19, the boys didn’t play competitive rugby for two years. Having started in the role only in January, I had pretty much three months preparation to get us ready for the tournament and obviously to seek to try and create some success through that. But I think the biggest thing was trying to create a culture of rugby.”
KDHSL’s first XI captain, matric student Eitan Miller, said, “This season, we tried to build a great culture throughout the team. Looking back at it now, I’m sure that if you speak to any of the players, they’ll tell you it’s like a brotherhood in the first team.”
In the final, the first XI consisted of a 23-player matchday squad, with eight matrics and seven grade elevens starting the match.
“We really have been on a quest to improve rugby at King David,” says Srage. “We have a director of rugby, we have physiotherapists who work with us. Our children can use our high-performance centre, and all those things are paying off. Remember that we are unlike any other private schools because the only rugby scholarships we can offer are amongst Jewish kids.”
When Jordaan, the former rugby coach at Northcliff High School, took over KDHSL’s rugby hotseat, he realised that the priority was to create an environment that was conducive for the boys to reach their potential.
“This meant we needed to get good coaching staff involved for all age groups, as well as put in a standardisation of processes,” he said. “All our rugby systems and calls from the first team all the way down to the under-14s were the same. We looked at developing a brand that we could be proud of.”
With Jordaan plus an assistant coach and a sports therapist in the technical team, the first XI started the season with a few friendlies. “We were looking quite good,” said Miller. “As the season progressed, we did very well throughout the league. Two weeks before the final, we actually played Trinity at home, and we lost by two points.”
After this defeat, the team’s “preparation and everything changed”, said Miller. “We started preparing more intensely for a different type of game. We knew how Trinity played. Going into the final, we were confident.”
In the week leading up to the final, the team had about three detailed training sessions focused on key roles in the game.
At this stage, Jordaan noticed a much-improved understanding of rugby in the team compared to the start of the year.
“Obviously, King David boys are well versed at soccer. They’ve been playing soccer since they were young,” he said. “They love the idea of rugby, however, they didn’t really know what rugby was about. So, to instil a culture that breeds success was the most important thing, and it definitely got us to win the games when they were tight during the finals.”
A King Edward VII School alumnus and a law graduate who represented South Africa at the Maccabi Games in 2013 and 2017, Jordaan says, “When I was at Northcliff prior to COVID-19, we dominated thoroughly and developed a big rivalry with King David. The last time King David Linksfield was in the final, I was coaching Northcliff, and we won. At the end of last year, there was an opportunity to take over the reins at Linksfield. Having coached against it for quite a while, I saw there was tremendous potential and jumped at the opportunity to try and create something that I and the school could be proud of.”