Percival Sizara in PAARL, South Africa
JUST a year ago, Scott Gray was a dead man walking and it looked like he would be sent to the guillotine after the Old Mutual Junior Sables’ disastrous 2017 Craven Week rugby campaign. Humiliating defeats would plunge the team into relegation into the Academy Week.
Gray had hinted he would be stepping down after the 2017 edition, even saying the Zimbabwe Rugby Union would be stupid to give him another run as Junior Sables coach.
However, Gray’s decision to cling onto the post against a wave of heavy criticism paid off.
“Last year was very tough. I honestly always believed that playing in the Academy Week is the right level for us,” Gray said.
“In every squad there is a handful of boys who really want to give it everything.
“They are really determined, they have the desire, their attitude is outstanding and I suppose it’s for those guys. You come back for those guys.”
Fast-forward to 2018 and against all odds, Gray’s team turned the tables to re-write the history books.
Not only did his team end the Academy Week unbeaten, a feat previously achieved in 2007 at Stellenbosch, they walloped Namibia 27-6, breaking a seven-year winless record against their traditional rivals.
“I am very proud of the boys, it was a fantastic effort by them. Mentally, they were up for the match even before game.
“The attitude and the desire to perform was absolutely outstanding. It was everything that we needed.
“They have come together nicely as a squad, they have become friends, they respect each other and they have become a very nice team.”
Gray’s simple message of getting out there and play hard got a response as the Junior Sables proved critics wrong.
They edged SA LSEN 29-27, followed it up with 44-19 win over Blue Bulls Country Districts and then overpowered the Namibians.
Gray believes the class of 2018 was driven by passion to do well.
“They have their own ambitions, they want to perform, they want to show people what they are capable of and they did that.
“Obviously it’s been a pleasure to coach them, they have come together so nicely as a team and it’s what it’s all about,” he said.