A decade after EMG's rare victory, only memories linger

EMG Gunners became the first from the north to win the league
EMG Gunners became the first from the north to win the league

A decade ago, Eastern Military Garrison (EMG) Gunners made history when they became the first club from the north to win the league title. The record still stands but EMG Gunners is no more. However, 10th anniversary celebrations will go on posthumously, as Mmegi Sport Staff Writer, CALISTUS KOLANTSHO recalls the glorious moment

Selebi-Phikwe celebrated a rare victory, as triumphant EMG Gunners players returned to the mining town with rugby’s sought-after local prize; the league trophy.

It was a rare moment as the army side became the first and thus far, the only one to take the trophy across the Dibete cordon fence. The man who was responsible for bringing the bright moment was coach, Neal Gouws.

He says the feeling cannot be put in words, as the team did not have talent, only self-belief.


“It was the biggest achievement of my life as a coach. The win had an impact on other people’s lives. Rugby is not about passing the ball,
but it has principles that are applied in real life,” he says.

Gouws notes that most of the players were greenhorns then, but ended up playing the national team, citing Lempaletse
Ngaka.  He says the following year after the championship, he decided to bring in some players from South Africa as a way of injecting
experience and nurturing talent.

Gouws was saddened when he saw the project dismantled in 2012 after BDF announced it was reducing its involvement in supporting sports teams. Even though Gunners have sunk into oblivion, a celebration event is planned for September in Selebi-Phikwe.

Former Gunners player, Conrad Ntsebe says he was lucky to have a bunch of versatile players around him. “They had to learn rugby in a short space of time compared to me who grew up playing it. But winning the league was probably just a reward
for the hard work the four-year plan from 2006-2010 to get the basics right,” he says.

“It was more of a completion of a process than a victory, which made it even better. So yes, it meant a lot looking at what we had at our disposal.”
Gunners beat BDF Cheetahs in the final, and Ntsebe still remembers the coach’s pep talk.

“Neal was subtle and very clear with the team on how he wanted us to approach the game. He really looked after the emotions very well and left it to the guys to choose their fate. He was choosy with words before the game and half time but only spoke to our feelings never really much about the game,” he adds.

Despite the demise of EMG, Ntsebe feels the rugby standard in the country is fine, but there is need for improvement.  “There are many kids playing now and coming through with some great potential. I think if there was at least one team per town it would
help,” says Ntsebe.

Other than Gunners, rugby in the North has greatly receded. There used to be Francistown Tuskers, Orapa Diggers, BDF Sharks, Maun Doggs and Gantsi Lions.

All these clubs ensured that players from surrounding schools had a development path. But their downfall was the numerous travels of between 400-900km to play teams in the South. This proved to be financially unsustainable.

The tournaments that used to be in those areas faded as there was no long-term management plan for the clubs. Interest was lost and the few skilled players migrated to the South either through work or to continue their studies.

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