A combined group of 100 Under-17 and Under-18 players have been invited to participate in the programme, which will run from Friday 19 to Sunday 21 March, with the invitation also being extended to close to 300 school, union and provincial coaches, as well as talent identification scouts, and strength and conditioning staff.

The virtual programme will follow a similar structure to the ‘live’ EPD camps hosted before the COVID-19 pandemic brought junior rugby to a halt, with a series of role players within the Rugby and Medical Departments at SA Rugby sharing their expertise to ensure a smooth transition between schools and junior international rugby.

Junior Springbok coach Bafana Nhleko, his predecessor Chean Roux, as well as SA Schools coaches Lance Sendin, Cobus van Dyk and Katleho Lynch, will present detailed aspects of play, with the other areas covered set to include strength and conditioning, nutrition and anti-doping – which are all vital in a high-performance environment.

“Exposure to the EPD structures is essential in enabling players to bridge the gap between schools rugby, junior international rugby, and later senior rugby,” said SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus.

“The fact that many of the Springboks, Junior Springboks, Springbok Sevens players, as well as the top provincial players in the country have come through this programme illustrates the benefit of exposing them to elite performance requirements early on in their careers.

“Given the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in the last two seasons our High Performance department was forced to think out of the box, and following on the success of the virtual programme last year, it made sense to host it online once again.”

Similarly to last season, the players in the EPD programme ranging from 16 to 20 years old have received training programmes to prepare them for the demands of rugby when they return to the field, and their progress has been monitored closely by the EPD managers.

“The virtual EPD programme certainly comes at the right time following the recent return to non-contact training for amateur rugby within specific safety conditions in light of the recent easing of adjusted lockdown regulations,” said Erasmus.

“It is also a welcome addition to the series of webinars being hosted by our Rugby Department, which kicked off two weeks ago and will conclude on Monday, 1 April, to prepare the players for the return to action in the coming weeks.

“I would like to thank Hilton Adonis (Manager: Training and Education), Louis Koen (Manager: High Performance Programmes), as well as Herman Masimla, Nico Serfontein and Barry McDonald, who spearhead the EPD programmes, for their determined efforts to ensure that our top junior players remain at the forefront of developments in the game, and that they are well equipped to return to the field as effortlessly as possible.”