Junior Pokomela rugby’s ambitions were given a major boost last month when a sponsor stepped in to back the rising star’s first year in the EP Rugby Academy.
At 18 years old, weighing 95kg and standing 1.87m tall, the former Grey High pupil has been identified by Academy manager Robbi Kempson as a player with loads of potential, who could go all the way to the top of the sport.
And to ensure no stone is left unturned to nurture the talent in Eastern Province, former provincial cricketer Jonathan Meyer, now boss of Inter Town Transport, has agreed to sponsor Pokomela’s year in the EP Academy.
A fast bowler, who attended NMMU (then UPE) in the mid to late eighties, Meyer played first-class cricket for six seasons, representing EP, Eastern Transvaal, Northern Transvaal and Transvaal.
His company’s involvement is another example of the co-operation between big corporates in the region and Eastern Province rugby in a bid to ensure our home-grown talent is properly nurtured.
Explaining their role, Meyer said: “We know that there is a wealth of rugby talent in the Eastern Cape, which is either identified and lost to other unions, or simply not developed due to a wide range of reasons.
“For us, this sponsorship is about acknowledging the talent that the Eastern Cape has and being an active participant in developing that talent.”
Pokomela was over the moon at this development, saying he was completely shocked after hearing the news from Kempson.
“I was called into the office by Mr Kempson, who said he had some good news for me. I knew he was trying to get me some new rugby boots so I was really excited, but when he told me that Inter Town were going to sponsor me for the year I was completely shocked,” said Junior.
“I am really grateful for the opportunity, I can’t express how much I appreciate it.”
Inter Town Transport’s sponsorship means that Pokomela’s accommodation, food and medical aid, among other costs, will be covered for the year.
Kempson said that over and above the financial sponsorship, Inter Town Transport had also offered Junior the opportunity to do some workplace experience training.
“Our aim at the Academy is to produce well rounded individuals, not just rugby players, and this sponsorship means that Junior will not only be able to compete on the field, but will have an opportunity to pursue a career outside of rugby when his playing days are over,” he said.
A quietly spoken, but confident young man, Pokomela is studying business management at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and also has an interest in law. When he’s not in class or studying he likes to kick back, listen to some hip hop or house music, play Xbox or just stay in bed.
“I have no doubt that this young man has what it takes to go all the way,” said Kempson.
And it’s not hard to see why.
When Pokomela is on the field, his natural talent shines through. The breakaway loose forward is not scared to put in the hard work. A strong ball carrier, he is also solid on defence, a good fetcher and has a very high work rate.
Pokomela has come through the ranks. He represented Eastern Province at the U16 Grant Khomo tournament in 2012 and was selected to play in Craven Week the following year, but missed the opportunity to compete in the tournament due to a torn meniscus.
Then, in 2014, he put in a spectacular performance, winning the Investec International Rugby Academy SA scholarship for his efforts at the annual Wildeklawer festival.
Later in the year it was no surprise that he was again called up to represent EP in the Craven Week. He made the most of the opportunity, playing a pivotal role in the team’s success as the unofficial champions of the tournament for the first time in 37 years, following a 25-7 victory against SWD in the final match in Middelburg.
This earned him a call up to the SA Schools side, where he was named on the bench for the match against Wales before being named in the starting line up for the match against England at flank.
Junior has played rugby since grade 1 in primary school. He started out at wing but moved to loose forward in grade 6, where he has played at flank, lock and eighthman, the latter being his favourite position.
It’s hard to believe that this talented young rugby player very nearly gave up his playing career in 2013.
“If I had not received a scholarship to Grey High school in Grade 11, I don’t think I would have carried on playing rugby,” said Junior.
“The scholarship was an opportunity of a lifetime, and since then rugby has led to a number of doors opening for me,” he said.
Junior now has his eyes firmly set on securing a senior contract with the EP Kings and earning a spot in the Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup competitions.
“I hope to one day play Super Rugby for the Kings and then my dream is to play for the Springboks,” he said.
Union Sports Group recently secured Junior a sponsorship with Puma.
Article courtesy of Neale Emslie from Times Media