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banner Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 05:05 GMT 06:05 UK
Rhinos aim to break duck
South African Rugby League team
South Africa are aiming for a big improvement
Five years ago South Africa were the sacrificial lambs of the Rugby League World Cup. Placed in a group with Australia and England, the team, made up mainly of rugby union converts, stood no chance.

Five years on, they may still not be considered a major threat in the world of rugby league, but the South African Rhinos are now more experienced and seemingly much better prepared to compete at the top level.

But being able to compete at all on the international stage is some achievement for a sport that for many years was forbidden under South Africa's strict apartheid laws.

Rugby League was popular and well established in South Africa during the 1950s, but the pro-rugby union apartheid government outlawed the code and stopped the game from being expanded.

It wasn't until 1990 that the game was reborn, thanks mostly to a tour by the Russian Bears. Its popularity soon increased, and the country was included in the 1995 World Cup.

But as we know, reality soon hit home when the side were thrashed in all three of their group matches.

Brighter future

However the future is looking much brighter. The new South African management team of former Kiwi forward Paul Matete and technical advisor Mike McLennan have put together a squad which should this time around should prove much more competitive.

Of the current squad, five play professionally in either the English or Australian leagues and another five are Currie Cup rugby union converts, who all have rugby league experience.

And McLennan, who coached Tonga in the last World Cup, is confident the side can improve considerably on their performances of 1995.

With players like Halifax's Jamie Bloem as captain, and the likes of Salford's Mark Johnson and Canberra's Sean Rutgerson in the squad, it does seem highly unlikely that they will lose all of their group matches this time round.

They have also been drawn in a group devoid of the big names in the sport, givng them a fair chance of gaining a quarter final berth.

But France, Papua New Guinea and Tonga will be no walkover and the Rhinos will have to drawn on all their new-found experience if they are to advance and break their 1995 World Cup duck.

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