Located just off the tourist-route that goes through the Western Cape town of George, former home of the South Africa Sevens, is a little forestry-village called Blanco.
As I student I completed an 8-day hike that started near Blanco and finished in the Knysna forest further along the N2 (highway). This part of the world is undoubtedly one of the most-beautiful parts of our country.
I also happens to be the hometown of two Springbok rugby players, one a former Bok, the other still serving his country. The former Springbok Bevin Fortuin has returned to Blanco, where he serves as a councillor while still being heavily involved in the game on club (Blanco) as well as provincial level with SWD (South Western Districts).
33-year-old Fortuin was born and bred in George and won the last of his two Test caps against Australia in 2007. He also enjoyed a highly successful first-class career with, amongst others, the Cheetahs and Eagles before hanging up his professional boots.
Bucking the negative trend
Teams from South Western Districts have traditionally underperformed at the National Club Championships but the Eagles’ surprise 2012 qualifiers, Blanco, are determined to buck the trend when the season-ending tournament takes place in Rustenburg in September.
Blanco will represent SWD at the Club Champs for the first time since 2004, after the club, situated in the outlying suburb of George from where it draws its name, became the first team in 20 years to reach the halfway stage of the 12-team Premier League unbeaten.
The club’s revival this year is due in no small measure to the inspirational presence of head coach and former Springbok fullback Bevin Fortuin, who, after a long layoff, has returned to on-field action as well – as a substitute in Blanco’s 33-13 victory over Oudtshoorn’s All Blacks last weekend.
Apart from coaching his club, Fortuin also takes charge of the Eagles Under-21 team. But his main job is that of DA ward councillor for Blanco – an impoverished community for whom the rugby team has so far this year proved an inspiration.
Blanco president Fareed Stemmet, a former Eden District Municipality Mayor, said the club had already made “heavy inroads” since their formation in 1994. “As with many clubs established after unity in 1992, Blanco are an amalgamation of Wanderers, a former Federation club; Evergreens, a former SARU club; and Blanco, a former SA Rugby Board club,” said Stemmet.
“Our home ground used to be Evergreens’ field but it’s our home now. Our first team is virtually an under-23 side and such has been their success that we had to hire three buses for supporters to travel to watch them in Bonnievale earlier this year.”
Apart from Fortuin, Blanco has also produced another Springbok fullback in the form of Zane Kirchner, whose family home overlooks the field, while a new generation of up-and-coming players includes wings Dominic Fortuin – a relation of Bevin’s – and Henswill Pedro, the club’s leading try-scorer with 15 touchdowns.
Flanker Christo du Plessis is versatile enough to play inside centre, which he pulled off with aplomb last Saturday after an injury crisis hit the side, while flyhalf Daniel Roberts, 18, was called up by the Eagles to play a pre-season friendly last week despite still being at school.
“We’ve divided this season into three phases,” said Fortuin (pictured above). “The first phase, which we’ve already achieved, was qualifying for the Club Champs. The second phase is to win the league, and the third phase is to do well at the Club Champs.
“But the most important thing of all is to build a bridge between the club and the community.”
Add @BlitzBokke if you are on Twitter or join our FaceBook Page. View our Images on Flickr or our Sevens videos on our YouTube Channel.