The senior England Rugby League team is currently visiting South Africa for a high altitude training camp in preparation for the Autumn International Series against France and Wales later this month and next year's Rugby League World Cup 2013 crusade.
The touring group consists of a 24-man squad, comprising members of the Elite Training Squad and the team's NRL-based internationals - including top players from the Super League in the UK, along with professional coaches and performance experts. The squad will be based at the highly-acclaimed North-West University Training Centre at Potchefstroom, regarded as one the best sports campuses in South Africa.
"The elite squad will see huge benefits from the camp, with the opportunity to greatly improve their overall performance," said England's national team performance manager Mark Bitcon. "The facilities at Potchefstroom are world class and our players will have never experienced anything like it before. Some of Britain's Olympians used the facilities in the build-up to London 2012 and it was Spain's base before they went on to win the World Cup two years ago," he continued.Open training sessions
The team's ten-day itinerary kicked off on 10 October and will include open training sessions where the public will have the chance to see world-renowned league players such as Sam Tomkins in action. The Elite Training Squad will also be running a Rugby League clinic in the North-West for Rugby League clubs in the area.
The tour also endorses South Africa's involvement in the sport. South Africa has full membership to the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF). While the SA team is ranked 24th in the world after re-admission, and is officially recognised as one of just eight Test Nations, the national team narrowly missed the chance to take part in the Rugby League World Cup taking place in England in 2013. The South African student team has qualified to take part in the parallel Rugby League Student World Cup competition.A perfect stop-over
Training in South African conditions offers numerous benefits and it is also foreseen that South Africa may be a perfect staging point for Rugby League World Cup teams travelling from other regions en route to England in 2013, given the various geographic, climatic and altitudinal aspects the country has to offer. Several international teams have already indicated their interest in stopping over in South Africa as they journey to England to commence their World Cup quest.
"Rugby League is played competitively in major territories around the world. As a top sporting nation, we believe the sport has great potential in the South African context," said England coach, Steve McNamara. "As a team we are really looking forward to our first visit to the country, both from a training and experiential point of view, but also in terms of sharing our expertise and knowledge of the game and fostering interest in the sport," he continued.Still in infancy in SA
Rugby League, although one of the oldest professional sports in the world, is still in its infancy stages in South Africa. Effectively banned in the early 1960's in South Africa and only allowed to participate again after 1995, rugby league has been a slow starter, especially with the strength of the union code locally. South Africa has more resources and talented players than any country, and two South Africans feature in the Rugby League Hall of Fame. Following a complete restructure in the past two years, South African Rugby League is very excited about the tremendous potential for the game in South Africa.