RALEIGH — Many people in the Triangle don’t know much about rugby. Other than the movie “Invictus,” the sport has gone pretty much unnoticed by popular culture.
But a select few are trying to change that. One is Andre Snyman, who hails from the same country “Invictus” was centered in: South Africa.
“(Rugby is) not on television, and it’s not in the media,” Snyman said. “It’s under the radar. That’s why I think the Olympics of 2016 are going to be great. A lot of people are going to see the game for the first time. A lot people have heard about rugby and may have seen a little bit, but don’t understand. And if you watch a sport and you don’t know what they’re doing, you’re not going to watch it again.”
This week, the North Raleigh Youth Rugby Association and the N.C. State Rugby Club teamed up for the first Triangle Youth Rugby Camp, a week-long event for children ages 5 to 17.
Snyman is the lead instructor.
From 1996-2006, Snyman was part of the South African national team. Injuries in 1999 and 2000 kept Snyman out of the World Cup, but he earned 38 caps during his 10-year career for the Springboks. He said being a part of the team was the biggest honor of his life.
“It’s difficult to put the expression into words. I can say words like ‘awesome’ and ‘great,’ but there’s not actually real words that can describe it. It’s amazing to represent your country and know you’ve got millions of people supporting you and want you to perform and want you to do well. It’s tough in one sense, but it’s rewarding in another sense.”
Moving to the U.S.
Snyman’s professional career ended in 2007, and soon after, he began coaching rugby in South Africa. He and his family soon moved to the United States, and began coaching a club team in Colorado.
The move allowed him to help develop a sport that many still struggle to understand.
“It’s a new challenge and a new adventure,” Snyman said. “Inside South Africa there’s a lot of recycled rugby players. Every rugby player who is retired wants to go into coaching, and I didn’t want to be the next one in line. I thought I would step out of my box, come here and take it on as a challenge and adventure and help people over here. At least here I can make a difference. In South Africa, I don’t think I could have made as big of a difference because they’re around rugby so much.”
‘Focusing on the basics’
But it wasn’t just chance that Snyman ended up in Raleigh this week.
Snyman did business with the brother of NRYRA President John Adams. They talked about rugby, and the brother introduced Snyman and Adams.
Snyman said he jumped on the opportunity to help spread his love of the sport in a new part of the U.S.
“I love doing this and if I can spread my wings and go somewhere else to help clubs across the country,” Snyman said.
Adams is a co-founder of the rugby association and says the camp is a step in trying to grow the sport of rugby in the area.
“We’re really focusing on the basics of rugby,” Adams said. “It’s so important to learn the fundamentals. Everything is built off that. We want all the kids to take that from this camp and have fun.”
While Adams says the sport has grown in parts of the country, including Charlotte, rugby has still not taken off in Raleigh. No schools in the Triangle currently sponsor the sport.
Adams and Snyman say they hope rugby’s addition to the 2016 Olympics will bolster the sport into the public’s eyes.
“My biggest hope in this country is that we can get more people watching the game and understanding the game,” Snyman said. “Once they watch it and understand the game, maybe they’ll take interest in it. For the moment, they just see these guys running around and smashing into each other. We need eyeballs, and hopefully it’ll take off.”