Quintin van Jaarsveld
Kelly van der Berg had a key hand in helping the South African Women’s Under-20 side bag bronze at the Youth Touch Rugby World Cup in Malaysia on Saturday.
It was always set to be a milestone moment in the life of the multi-talented Shelly Beach star, who’d long harboured hopes of donning the Green and Gold.
Little did she know, however, that the four-day global showcase at Equestrian Park, Putrajaya would exceed her wildest dreams, as she not only made her debut for the Touchboks, but also returned to South Africa with a priceless possession.
Teams from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, United States, India, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and hosts Malaysia vied for glory in the first Youth Touch Rugby World Cup in 13 years.
Southern Hemisphere sides dominated, with Australia crowned world champions, New Zealand settling for second and South Africa placing third in all (Under-18 and Under-20 men’s, ladies and mixed) divisions.
The Australasian sides proved too strong for the South Africans, however, a convincing 7-3 win over Singapore saw Van der Berg and company clinch bronze.
“I’m so blessed to have been given this opportunity to represent my country at international level and then to walk away with a bronze World Cup medal is such an honour. I will treasure that moment forever,” Van der Berg told eHowzit.
Her touch rugby journey reached the destination the former Port Shepstone High School head girl had dreamt of since being introduced to the sport at Sheppie High in 2013 when she made her Touchbok bow against Australia in the tournament opener.
The result didn’t go South Africa’s way, but that did little to detract from her magical moment.
All the years of hard work and dedication, rigorous training and travelling to training camps in Durban, Gauteng and Cape Town had paid off.
“It was an incredible feeling,” she said of her debut for the national side. “I felt nervous but my excitement helped me overcome my nerves. Once I began to play, I had the sudden realisation that I was representing my country and felt a sense of pride and honour.
“My heart was beating so fast and I was pumped with adrenaline. The seconds before the match felt like forever, but when the first whistle blew the game was over in seconds.”
The midfielder’s speed, agility, explosiveness, vision and ball skills were on full display as she created numerous tries with her play-making prowess and shut down her channel on defence.
The student of the game was satisfied with her showing, saying, “I feel my performance was consistent yet progressive. My confidence picked up with each game, so did my ability to execute my responsibilities on the field. I absorbed my mistakes and victories after each day and took it into consideration.
“Being critical on myself allowed me to perform better each day, and as that occurred, the nerves became obsolete and all that was left was enjoyment.
“I feel I played my role on the field well and my growth in confidence made me believe I could do more each game. I was impressed with both the team’s and my personal progression. Every moment was a highlight because every moment pushed me to go the extra mile.”
Overall, she said it was an unforgettable experience.
“It was an exciting and progressive journey. I learnt more about my team mates, as well as myself. Being in a different environment made the familiarity between myself and my peers a powerful attribute to how we worked together, both on and off the field.
“I’m aware of my strengths and weaknesses, but the training, teamwork and communication between myself and my team mates refined them to a greater extent than I believed possible.
“Travelling to the other side of the world was exciting, although the food didn’t live up to the braais back home. The different culture, sights, activities definitely brought something new to the table.
“Making friends from all over the world made me happy to know that despite how big the world is, the passion we all share for the sport brings people together.
“This experience was one I will never forget, and I would relive it again, only for longer.”
Van der Berg is now set to reach the ultimate goal after being selected for the South African Women’s Open squad for next year’s Touch Rugby World Cup, which will also be held in Malaysia.
“I was very surprised when I got the letter to say that I had been selected for the ladies open squad. The ladies I were up against in the trials were phenomenal and I did not expect to make it.
“The World Cup is on a very different level in comparison to the Youth World Cup, so I will definitely have to up my performance and train a lot harder,” she said.
Photos by Fadzil Hisham/Tigers Super Sports, Nabeelah Ajam, The Federation of International Touch and South African Touch Association