In two tremendous announcements for international footy, AFL South Africa are now mentioning the possibility of hundreds of thousands of players, and there is confirmation that an elite Australian under age side will play a full Test match against the Africans in April - as far as we know the first such Australian Football international featuring a true Australian representative side.
A possible exception has been brought to our attention - an invitational juniors match between Australia and PNG in Adelaide in 1977, as mentioned here). We've also been told by reader John Milton that there were age concessions, with the Aussies under 17s and PNG under 19s, with the taller Australians getting up in a close one. Similar concessions are likely this time around.
The AFL has confirmed that the 2007 "Once in a Dreamtime" game, to be played in Darwin between Essendon and an Aboriginal All-Stars side, will feature South Africa's under 19s taking on the Qantas AFL Indigenous Youth Team as the curtain-raiser.
As the AFL continues its push into South Africa, role models for budding young players can be an important factor. Obviously it will be much more significant when a player groomed in a local competition is drafted into the Australian Football League, but in the meantime AFL South Africa may be able to leverage the recent rookie listing of a young player born in their country.
The Australian Convicts, a side of amateur players from around Australia, will tour South Africa again for two weeks next February and March playing three games, one against the South African national team. The players will also hold juniors clinics with local children. "Mr Football" Ron Barassi has also recently come on board as patron of the Convicts, featuring in Melbourne daily newspaper the Herald Sun.
The Australian Football League appear to be following through on their commitment to footy in South Africa, with perhaps the biggest single increase in international Australian Football development in the game's history. This should result in a rapid expansion in staff and player numbers.
In a story several weeks ago in Western Australia's Sunday Times it was reported that the AFL will look at staging a match, possibly a NAB Cup game, in South Africa in the next two seasons. This will be another significant step in their commitment to the game in that country. The story also mentions previously reported plans to spread the game into Western Cape, and suggests Natal for the first time (actually called Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa).
At last weekend's Adelaide versus Fremantle match, participants aged from 5 to 13 from the 'Sporting Chance' program formed a guard of honour for the Crow's players. All the children have immigrated to Australia over the past year from countries like Sierra Leone and The Sudan.
At the 2005 International Cup the South African vice-captain, Benji Motuba, was an inspiration as he returned to the field from a recently broken collarbone. The injury was sustained whilst playing in the South Australian Riverland on a scholarship. After the Cup he returned to Africa where he met his baby son for the first time.
A documentary entitled "Flying Boomerangs" will air on the ABC's Indigenous Affairs program "Message Stick", covering the tour by young Aboriginal Australians to South Africa to play Aussie Rules against local teams. A preview of the program is available at the National Indigenous Times website. "Flying Boomerangs" will air on ABC TV on Friday August 4th (6pm) and Sunday August 6th (1.30pm).
The Convicts amateur footy side are set to repeat their successful 2005 tour of South Africa with another venture there in February 2007. The tour is a great chance to support international Australian Football whilst having a great holiday and visiting parts of South Africa that many tourists miss out on. They're looking for just a couple more players to field a well balanced side.