IN Travis Gordon, KES have gold.
At the time of writing what ranks among the most enjoyable features with one of the most likeable young men that I’ve undertaken in my 24 years as a scribbler, it was 10 matches into the blossoming KES first XV season. The dynamic number eight and captain has played a key role in the 10 from 10, be it on the fabled KES stronghold, Reds Field, down in the Western Cape or across the Jukskei. And it’s abundantly clear that this very special Redsgroupis signalling to all and sundry that they’re looking to be considered one of the great teams in this great school’s illustrious rugby history.
It’s been a triumphant road well-travelled for Trav’s Army.
As of May 18 this is how it looks –
|Home||Pretoria Boys||Won 31- 0|
|Home||St Albans||Won 34-17|
|KES Fest||Wynberg||Won 42-17|
|KES Fest||Rondebosch||Won 25-17|
|KES Fest||Kingswood||Won 41-10|
|Wynberg Fest||Bishops||Won 35-14|
|Wynberg Fest||Bellville||Won 16-8|
|Home||Maritzburg College||Won 39-20|
|Away||Affies||Leading 16-7 (Lightning stopped play)|
|Away||St Stithians||Won 71-17|
|Home||St Benedict’s||Won 18-10|
|Away||St John’s College||Won 57-19|
Still to come –
29 JULY PRETORIA BOYS’ Away
5 AUGUST JEPPE Home
12 AUGUST MARITZBURG COLLEGE Away
“The KES season so far has been very good. Like the Lions, we are playing a brand of rugby people want to come and see. And the team vibe and gees is magnificent. The lads want to be at practice.
So who does Travis turn to for advice if needs be in the red-hot heat of battle? “In my side, Yanga Hlalu is my go-to guy. We have been mates since grade 8.Yanga is a brother to me. On and off the field, if I need help, I go to him.”
The Affies game ranks as the most exciting muscle-upof the Travis Gordon season so far: “Even though it was not completed, it was the one game I enjoyed the most. We played with a sense of ‘swagger’ about us, throwing the ball around, pulling together as a team. We were up 16-7 when lightning forced the teams off.”
What is it about KES rugby that makes it so special? “The history behind the famous Red jersey is what makes it so special. You will have KES Old Boys from 60 years back come tell you about the Reds back in their day. The Red jersey is the first thing you hear about when you begin life at KES and is the most sacred of all sports kit.”
OK, so how important is it to Travis and the team – the support of their passionate Old Boys? “The Old Boys give the KES boys a massive boost. Seeing them take time out of their busy schedules to watch on the weekend gives the boys a big kick, especially when you’rejammed in the corner, five metres from your own tryline and you have 100s of Old Boys screaming you on.”
Trav wears the Reds’ number eight jersey. Is he able to play other positions if team needs require the switch from his customary spot in the line-up? “Yes, 8 is my favourite position but I am very happy and comfortable playing 6 as well as 7. I enjoy being versatile and playing anywhere the coach needs me.
Not surprisingly, his rugby player role model is one Richie McCaw. “A genius on the field, as well as being an influential leader. The way he conducts himself; always thinking ahead, reading where the next play will be, is inspiring. He was the most successful captain of all time, yet his humility always shone through.”
Like many schoolboy successes, Trav was introduced to the oval ball by Dad (Colin) in the family’s backyard. It’s an inspirational story, the ultimate supporting role that Dads can give their Lads.
“The day I was born, a rugby ball was placed by my side – Dad has photos to prove it!Since I could barely walk I would be playing touch rugby in the backyard. Six years later I had my first ‘official’ rugby practice. Union Tigers Rugby club; I was only six and playing with the U8s. All I remember was getting tackled extremely hard and my father telling me ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall, so dust yourself off and get even’. I’m not entirely sure what it is about this fantastic game that began my passion but going to my first Test match when I was three years old was a starting point for the game I so dearly love.”
Trav was given the nickname “Enforcer”by his coach in grade 4 … perhaps a sign of things to come. “I was quite a chubby bunny then and I’ve always liked to tackle and clean, so I tried to live up to this nickname, even though I’m not called it now!”
So who has been the biggest influence on his career?The answer is immediate: “My Dad. He has supported me through everything. If I ever needed something he would be the first to get it for me, often sacrificing his own plans to be on the sideline supporting me. My Dad has always been honest with me, telling me when I was good and when he thought I played badly, but at the same time always suggesting ways to improve and better myself.
Let’s fast-forward to matters KES rugby … A school’sdirector of rugby plays a crucial role in facilitating what is produced on the pitch. Boys are naturally drawn to a mentor who exudes energy and enthusiasm, throws out challenges to the players and team- the KES man delivers the goods, says Trav.
“Mr Deon de Wet took over as director of rugby this year. He coached us in U15 and U16 and is what you would call a Man’s Man. A more enthusiastic coach you won’t find. He always looked out for us and instilled belief and confidence. He is an excellent scrum coach and laid the foundation for our age group.
“I must also mention our previous director of rugby. Mr Carl Spilhaus is a legendary schoolboy coach and probably his biggest attribute is that he challenged you to learn and grow- always expecting and demanding more of you.
Mzwake Nkosi is the Reds’head coach. Once again, Travis reserves high praise for his input.
“I have been fortunate enough to be coached by Mr Nkosi since I was 12. He is an ex-Reds player – like our forwards coach Mr Senna Esterhuizen. They were vice-captain and captain respectively of a very strong Reds outfit back in the day. As a little boy, I watched them play and wanted to emulate them.
“I don’t think there is a coach out there who can beat Mr Nkosi for passion … he is a real student of the game and is always thinking about ways to improve. He was an outstanding player, came up through the ranks of coaching prep schools and age groups and then had a stint as assistant to Mr Spilhaus. He demands the best from us, is always challenging us and as captain he is always challenging me to think about why and how we do things.”
Support staff are also key to the success of any outfit – and once again the Reds have selected the ultimate combination of ingredients that make for a winning recipe.
“As mentioned, the ex-Reds captain and hard man, Senna Esterhuizen, is our forwards coach. He complements Mr Nkosi well and together they make for a great combination. Mr Esterhuizen was a superb player. His example and belief in us has been very important.
“This year we basically had a brand-new team because Mr Hennie Liebenberg joined us as conditioning coach. Our fitness and conditioning has helped us to come up with the goods when required. Like any good conditioning coach, he is strict but has a great rapport with the boys. He drives us hard but at the same time looks after us when needs be.
“Mr Brendan During is the physio based at the school, who we have all got to know well over the last couple of years with the aches and pains that come from this game we so love. Dr Peter Baxter is the calm elder statesman of our group. A proper sports doctor whoalways makes time for us.”
So the collective add-value, the sum of the parts these specialists bring, is a game-changing component of the KES first XV success story?
“This group just gels; pulling in the same direction.”
The headmaster of any champion rugby school must have a passion for the sport – or at least an appreciation of its character-building values … the aspects in the development of a gentleman that a classroom cannot always bring – and in David Lovatt, KES have that in spades … The security of knowing that you have a leader backing you all the way reinvigorates the inherent determination each boy has to honour the KES badge.
“Mr Lovatt is a rugby man himself, and has coached at Craven Week.He loves rugby and still referees matches.For any KES team or individual it makes a huge difference knowing the top dog backs you!
So, how does the head and his rugby staff deal with indiscipline, red/yellow cards? Do the KES Rugby executive team succeed in endeavouring – as much as is possible, to be consistent in their application of the sanction, given that each indiscretion presents its own unique circumstances and mitigating factors?
“I believe that the school has the right approach. There is no disciplinary action for cards stemming from repeated technical infringements etcetera, other than the player in question may face the wrath of his coach. Foul play is a different story.A red card is an automatic disciplinary – with suspension from games the likely and deserved outcome.”
How would the KES skipperassesshis own temperament?“I like to think of myself as being a cool head when those around me are possibly losing theirs. I am calm in pressure situations, manage to think clearly in times of disorganisation and in situations where a spreading uncertainty has the potential to unhinge the team cause.”
When asked the question, how much help the KES first XV coaching staff provide as far as technical rugby skills are concerned, Travis was unequivocal in his response: “As mentioned,Mr Nkosi has coached me since grade 6and has helped me tremendously with regards to my individual skills; passing and tackling being two examples. Mr Nkosi trumps skills over bruteforce. The coaching team spend a lot of time ironing out weaknesses during individual skills sessions, improving not only the player but the team as well.”
Does Travis see video assessment of his performance a key ingredient in developing his on-field rugby education; his ability to “read” a game, what’s happening in front of him… and adapt the KES team’s tactics and his own personal game plan when needed during the heat of a match – or doeshe, like all-too-many schoolboys, rely on “Coach” to inform him of immediate tactical changes in response to the surprises that the opposition bring … Surprisesthat were perhaps not considered during the pre-match sessions?
“Video assessment has played a massive role in developing me as a player. I usually watch my own game the following day to look for areas where I can improve; what I did well (or badly!) and why something happened. By analysing my own play, I can continue to improve my game. When it comes to the opposition, I rely on coach to go through the games – and if anything out-of-the-ordinary comes up, to let us know how to combat it, but at festivals etcetera I like to watch who we will be playing against later and see if I can spot their weaknesses.
“I mainly rely on my ability to read the situation as it happens on the field, an ability which I’ve acquired over my years of watching rugby. A huge help to me was that when I was injured last year, Nico Serfontein at SARU very kindly helped me to start coding games and this allowed me to get a better understanding of what coaches look for and expect from players.”
So who does the KES first XV video work – the person who actually films the matches? “One of our grade 9 boys, Chad Bramhall, videos all Reds games. This year, our coach cuts the clips. Last year, I cut the clips while I was injured. He shows us team plays, where we did well and where we can improve.”
How important is fitness to the ongoing rugby development of Travis Gordon?
“When you become fatigued you begin to make the sort of mistakes you never used to make. Ensuring that your fitness is up to scratch also means you can perform at your best for longer. This has formed a major part of my game, I pride myself on being the fittest forward, always trying to be at the front, pushing myself to my limit.
“My godfather is Hans Mordt and he instilled in me Ray Mordt’s philosophy – make sure no one is training harder than you. I work closely with the fitness coach at school or the provincial union to help me maintain fitness and increase strength during the off-season, usually getting a holiday programme during the break.”
Finally, how has rugger helped Trav personally over the years in developing his character? What has rugby and the team ethic so vital to success taught him that can be applied to the challenges of life that we all have to deal with outside the white lines?
“Rugby has taught me to keep going through any challenge that I am faced with. It taught me commitment – to dig deeper when the going gets tough. Another massive part of the game is respect. Respect for yourself, your opposition, as well as officials. This has played a major part in my life in all aspects.
“Being in a team game teaches you to work with those around you, how to handle and manage the people around you to get the best possible result for all. Many of the friends I have made through playing the game will be in my life forever – and that is why we play sport. To make new friendships, cement old ones … friendships that will survive a lifetime.”
When asked if there was anything else he’d like to mention in this feature, the Travis response was as quick as his blindside break on Reds Field: “To all the boys out there who take up this wonderful game, give it a full crack, make as many mates as you can and have fun doing it!”
I know that I am not alone in wishing Travis Gordon everything of the best during the rest of this fabulous KES first XV season and beyond.
TRAVIS GORDON FAST FACTS
School: KES 1st XV captain & No.8
Rugby role model: Richie McCaw
Primary school: King Edward VII Prep School (KEPS)
Provincial: U13 Academy; U16 Grant Khomo; U18 Academy
KES 1st XVdebut: Grade 10 vs Bishops (Jeppe Fest)
First XV caps to date: 18
Season rugby ambition: Craven Week & SA Schools
Rugbyambition: Play professionally
Study-wise: B.Comm Finance Marketing