Quintin van Jaarsveld
Kelly van der Berg will realise her dream of donning the Green and Gold when she runs out for the South African Women’s Under-20 side at the Youth Touch Rugby World Cup in Malaysia from 8-11 August.
The multi-talented Shelly Beach star’s unprecedented journey will take her to Kuala Lumpur, where she’ll represent one of six South African sides in the global showcase.
Van der Berg has also been included in the South African Women’s Open squad for next year’s Touch Rugby World Cup, which will also be held in Malaysia.
Hers is a remarkable story of discovery, dedication and stars aligning, as a chance introduction to the sport little over five years ago now has her on the cusp of showcasing her skills in the first Youth Touch Rugby World Cup in 13 years.
The maturity of the game at youth level has been strengthened by regular competition in recent years, prompting the Federation of International Touch to build on these efforts and resurrect the tournament.
Having last been held in Australia in 2005, the world’s pre-eminent young players are champing at the bit to compete on the grand stage, and approximately 50 teams from countries including hosts Malaysia, New Zealand, France, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Africa will vie for world titles in the respective Under-18 and Under-20 men’s, ladies and mixed divisions.
“I’m extremely honored that I’ve been blessed with this opportunity and very grateful for the people who’ve supported and encouraged me to pursue my dreams,” Van der Berg, fresh off a South Africa Touch Association (SATA) training camp in Johannesburg, told eHowzit.
A natural born athlete, Van der Berg shone on the sports field from a young age and was named Sports Woman of the Year in her grade seven year at Izotsha Primary.
She was selected for Ugu hockey and soccer teams throughout her time at Port Shepstone High School and was a phenomenal sprinter, representing the school with aplomb at major Kings Park meets.
Her touch rugby journey began in 2013.
“I love playing sport and when I arrived at Port Shepstone High School in grade eight, I was in my element with the vast variety of sport they offered. I tried every sport that I could fit into my weekly schedule. Touch rugby was one of them and I loved it from the word go.”
The most popular, codified form of touch rugby is derived from rugby league and features two teams of six – made up of midfielders, links and wings (with eight replacements) – who compete in two 20-minute halves.
Teams have six downs for each attacking sequence with a try being worth one point. Matches at elite level are highly technical and rolling substitutions are made meticulously.
Van der Berg is equally adept in all positions, but mostly plays as a defensive midfielder due to her speed and agility.
Her natural ball skills, explosiveness and new-found love for the game saw her make an immediate impact. The can’t-miss prospect slotted into the first team right away and she was selected for the KwaZulu-Natal Under-13 Touch Sharks that same year.
She’d go on to be a key player in the provincial and Sheppie High first teams from that point forward and received honours for touch rugby in recognition of her ground-breaking high school career when she matriculated in 2017. In a fitting send-off, she was also acknowledged as the Sports Woman of the Year.
The special sporting talent also possesses great leadership abilities, highlighted by her serving as Sheppie High’s head girl and first hockey team captain last year.
Selection for South African Youth Touch Rugby World Cup squads began back at the 2016 Junior Inter-Provincial Touch Rugby Tournament in Cape Town.
This is where Van der Berg put herself on the national map, as a sterling showing earned her a place in the SATA Junior All Star team, who’d hold training sessions throughout the next year.
Despite forming part of this elite squad, Van der Berg had to prove herself one more time during last August’s Junior Inter-Provincial in Durban, where she impressed again and confirmed her place in the final South African Youth Touch Rugby World Cup squad.
“It’s every athlete’s dream to be able to represent their country in the Green and Gold. It certainly has always been my dream. I’m grateful that I’m fortunate enough to be given this opportunity and for all my coaches who believed in me and that have brought me to this point where I could be noticed and ultimately selected to represent my country,” she said.
“I’m so excited to meet touch rugby players from all over the world who love to play the sport I do. I’ll be surrounded by hundreds of like-minded young people in one arena…it’s going to be awesome!
“Thank you to my mom and dad that have made many sacrifices to get me where I am today. Thank you for your unmovable and relentless support and encouragement through the years.”
The junior Touch Boks assemble for regular training camps in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Cape Town, while weekly training sessions and monthly fitness tests have been held at Growthpoint Kings Park since 2016.
Van der Berg also maintains a strict daily personal agility and fitness training schedule that includes crossfit four times a week to ensure she’s in peak physical condition year-round.
It’s this drive and dedication that’s seen her raise all but the full R50 000 required to make the trip to Malaysia.
Touch rugby has truly shaped the course of her life in recent years. She’s focusing all her energy on the sport this year and gives back to Sheppie High by coaching the first team boys and girls teams.
Her experience and knowledge of the game at national and provincial level has taken the sport to new heights at the school, with a record seven of her players being selected for the KwaZulu-Natal Touch Sharks this year.
Her passion for touch rugby radiates from her athletic physique. “It’s an exciting, fast-paced, action-packed, non-contact sport,” she remarked.
“I enjoy all sports that require speed and agility, but most of all I enjoy being part of something that’s bigger them me and my ability. I enjoy team sports as they incorporate others’ strengths that compensate for my weaknesses and in so doing, we achieve success.
“I enjoy being part of this tremendously fast-growing sport. I’m constantly surrounded by fellow athletes that aspire to give their best and that have positive attitudes in life. There’s a saying ‘show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.’ Well, if this has any truth to it, I have a bright future.”
By all accounts, she indeed has a bright future and looks poised to make South Africa proud at the Youth Touch Rugby World Cup.
Dream Youth Touch Rugby World Cup for South Coast star