I’d met Roanne several times with his Saracens Sports Foundation hat on and found him to be a friendly and charismatic man, it was no surprise therefore to find him in hospitality mode when I was lucky enough to be in the 100 Club pre-match.  A Saracens Supporters Association evening where he was the host left me wanting to find out more about him.  A throw away introduction by John Trigg about an email sent by Roanne which eventually secured his place at Saracens intrigued me, an interview was arranged and what I found out about him made me understand just how he came to be here in England and at this club.

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Roanne comes from Pretoria, having interviewed a few of his South African rugby playing compatriots I know how important sport is when growing up there.  He played rugby with a scholarship, along with cricket, tennis and athletics, he also became a National Life Guard while at school, no mean feat in a land locked area!

Roanne played at a high level, encountering Pierre Spies amongst others, playing as the opposition 9 to Spies’ 8 from the U16/17 age groups.  He took part in Craven Week – an annual tournament, started in 1964, it gives the Provincial teams a chance to look at the talent coming through, often signing players while they’re still at school.

Roanne coached while at the Pretoria Boys high, working with the U15’s D team.  He explained that the school had teams from A to F at U14’s and U15’s, moving to 10 teams at U16/17’s they play across 9 rugby pitches, in addition the school has 3 hockey pitches, an Astro pitch and 8 squash courts, a testament to the sports culture.  10 of Roanne’s U15’s went into the 17/18’s first team, where they beat Affies School, the Afrikaans school in Pretoria, they had a famous Head Boy in Jon Smits.

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On top of his studies and sport Roanne played the violin in the School Orchestra, it’s no surprise to know he won the ‘Most Rounded Individual’ prize on leaving the school.

Roanne had England on his mind by the end of his school career and came over to Leicester in 2004, where he had family, he played for Leicester Lions on arrival and had an invite to the Leicester Tigers Academy within 4 or 5 weeks of being here, he was with the Tigers Academy for 2 years, during that time he damaged his rotator cuff and was out of action for 6 months.  With that in mind he realised that education was going to be key in his life; it was too expensive to study in England so he headed back to South Africa and the Tshwane University where he studied Adventure Tourism, a 4 year management course, halfway through that he started a second degree, in Psychology.  He played rugby for the university for a year but decided the game was off the agenda, but exercise certainly wasn’t and he challenged himself with triathlons, turning those into the Iron Man challenge, he completed 5 over his time at university.

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On completion of his degrees Roanne added another qualification, completing a teaching qualification in a year, a PGCE, which would stand him in good stead in England.  The world of work beckoned and Roanne worked for a tourism company as a marketing consultant, he was heavily involved with parties travelling for the World Cup, working with English, French, Algerian and Spanish groups.

England was still on his mind and Roanne put his plan of contacting schools in the Saracens area in place,  he had in mind to work in a school and offer his coaching services to Saracens, a team he was well aware of due to the South African connections.  He contacted many schools but had no luck so decided to approach Saracens directly.  This was where the email to John Trigg came in, he emailed as many addresses as he could find online, John forwarded the message to Edward Griffiths, who amazingly then called Roanne, he asked him what Saracens could do for him – give me a job, was the reply.  Edward liked what he heard and saw and arranged for Roanne to meet Brendon Venter in Cape Town a week later.

Roanne was able to get some advice on his meeting from Jannie De Beer, he’d worked with him in kicking clinics, De Beer had played scrum half to Venter, he advised his friend to be straightforward and open.  They met at a pancake shop, Venter was late but texted Roann to explain why.  When he arrived Roanne didn’t get a word in for 15 minutes, he even had his pancake ordered for him, he told Venter what he wanted to do and when asked about his coaching philosophy he explained that he felt it wasn’t just about the rugby but also about engaging people.  That hit a nerve.  A practicing doctor Venter had to rush off but said he’d call later.  Roanne flew home and found an email to Edward from Venter (he was copied in by mistake), his verdict?  He has potential.

Edward offered a 3 month internship, giving a house to stay in and something to do.  That something to do was working with Scott Murphy in performance analysis, it took me a while to understand what that entailed, they watched rugby matches, mostly from the Championship, it was basically talent spotting.  Two players ended up at Saracens through that work, Richard Barrington from Jersey  and Tim Streather from Nottingham.  6 weeks in Saracens told Roanne they’d like him to stay, 6 months in to being indoors watching screens Roanne was going stir crazy and he asked for a change of role.

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That coincided with the launch of the Saracens Sports Foundation, Get Onside project.  A pilot had run in Feltham Young Offenders Institute, the scheme was to grow into a course that would give offenders an ASDAN qualification.  17 lads took part in the first tranche and alongside a nation re-offending rate of 82% this group attained an amazing 9%!  Overall the course average is 11% on the 2.5 years it’s been running.

This was life changing work and it’s clear to see passion in Roanne’s eyes when he talks about his work there, he’s still in touch as a mentor with some of his ‘students’.  It became high profile with both BT Sports and Sky Sports filming at the prison, Saracens sponsors became involved over time too.

A change at the top at Saracens saw Heath Harvey take the role of CEO as Edward Griffiths left the club.  He naturally reviewed his staffing and spotted Roanne’s relationship with several sponsors, he asked him to consider a move over to the corporate side of the business.  A departure from the hospitality side of the business left a perfect slot for Roann and he’s now moved back into the sort of role he started his working life in.

A determined, driven man Roanne has another 2 years in England before he can apply for a passport, he’ll be doing so as soon as he can.  I can now see why this man was taken on by Saracens and I’m certain he’ll be a success at whatever he lays his hands on.

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