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Last winter, Phil Terrigno, Rugby Coach of Women and Men at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, decided to expand his coaching education by finding an unpaid assistant position with an overseas professional club. With three-months open in the academic summer break, he realized that with no rugby matches occurring in leagues across Europe and Japan, the sole opportunity existed in the southern hemisphere.
Terrigno preferred South Africa and narrowed his on line search to that country. He was intrigued by the biography of Peter Engledow, a South African who moved to England where he became a Rugby Football Union development officer, a coach trainer, and Head Coach at St. Joseph's College. Engledow returned to South Africa, taking on the coaching position at the Northern Cape Province, Kimberly-based Tafel Lager Griquas RFC. The team plays in the country's Currie Cup, the oldest and most prestigious national rugby competition, started in 1889.
Engledow mentored younger coaches and was pleased to extend to Terrigno a six-week placement to help with all the Griquas sides, including younger, amateur players and the Senior Men’s Team.
Terrigno flew South African Airways to Johannesburg, connecting for the one-hour flight to Kimberly. The city is known for the historic discovery of diamonds in 1866, and also for the DeBeers family, which became synonymous with the rare stones. The name Griquas refers to a semi-nomadic people of mixed race who spoke Afrikaans.
Engledow mapped out a full, six-day schedule, including coaching assistance and attending all administration meetings. Terrigno was given a daily, fifteen-minute block of time to warm up the team. He also sat in on the weekly video match analysis of the Griquas professional games against other South African fifteens. The home games in Kimberly generated crowds of five to six thousand fans, and these matches were televised.
During his six weeks stay, Terrigno, an instructor at Texas Tech in communications, maintained teaching on line. He found a few days to visit a big cat park where he saw cheetahs.
For the visiting American, it was a dynamic learning experience at the highest level of international professional rugby. What impressed him was the depth of the country's age grade academy system, attracting young players who will make up the U-13 and U-16 teams. The last day in South Africa, the Griquas game him a farewell lunch and a signed team jersey.
(Photo: Left is Neil Murphy, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Terrigno is in the middle, and on the right is Denzil Frans, Forwards Coach.)