Uni-Norths player Cuan Hablutzel scores a try against Wests. Photo: Jay CronanCuan Hablutzel is the nuggety Uni-Norths Owls hooker that World Cup-winning coach Jake White left behind as a parting gift to Canberra rugby.
Nanjing Night Net

But the determined South African junior wants to forge his own path in the capital and chase a National Rugby Championship berth this year when his Jake White scholarship ends.

Cape Town-born Hablutzel is the owner of the first and only Jake White scholarship at the University of Canberra that was set up in conjunction with the former ACT Brumbies mentor three years ago.

The only problem was that after Hablutzel accepted the offer to uproot his life and move to Australia, White quit the Brumbies and moved back to South Africa.

Hablutzel played junior rugby with White’s son Wesley and had met South Africa’s world champion in passing, but he was determined to see out his study and rugby opportunities in Canberra even if White wasn’t around.

“It’s been great so far, I’ve really enjoyed it. I was watching a rugby game and the scholarship was advertised so I applied and I was lucky enough to get it,” Hablutzel said.

“The only time I met Jake was before I even got the scholarship. It took some time to make the decision, but looking back it was the right decision for me.

“Before I even got awarded the scholarship Jake had left the Brumbies so I didn’t know how I would be received when I got over here.

“It would have been good to work with Jake, but my skill level and understanding of the game have all increased with all the people I’ve worked with at the Brumbies.”

 

The Jake White scholarship was set up as a joint initiative between the Brumbies and the University of Canberra to help both organisations tap into the South African market.

But White quit just two years into a four-year contract after guiding the Brumbies into the Super Rugby final in 2013. His departure meant the end of the scholarship.

But it has paid dividends for the Owls. Hablutzel scored a double in their win against Wests last weekend to help keep their finals hopes alive.

The 20-year-old is not shirking his academic duties either and will take a accounting and finance exam at the university on Friday before the Owls play the Queanbeyan Whites on Saturday.

Hablutzel, known is Owls circles as ‘Cha Cha’, hopes he can finish his studies this year and earn selection for Canberra’s NRC side as a stepping stone to Super Rugby.

“Getting into the NRC is the first goal and for me it’s just about taking steps, then taking it further each time,” Hablutzel said.

“We’ve found at the Owls that we’ve got a good combination of youth and experience going. We believe we’ve got the structures in place to match it with teams and cause some upsets.”

Meanwhile, eight Canberra players have been selected in an Australian Barbarians side to play the Australian Under-20s at Chatswood Oval next week as a warm-up match for the junior World Cup.

Brodie Leber, Andrew Robinson, Liam Berry, Tim Cornforth, Neori Nadruku, Max Pizzamiglio, OJ Noa and Edan Campbell-O’Brien will all play for the Barbarians, as well former Tuggeranong Vikings stars Rodney Iona and Rowan Perry.

JOHN I DENT CUP ROUND EIGHT

Saturday: Royals v Easts at Phillip Oval, 3.05pm, Uni-Norths Owls v Queanbeyan Whites at ANU North, 3.05pm, Wests v Gungahlin Eagles at Jamison Oval, 3.15pm. Tuggeranong Vikings – bye.

Tuesday: Australian Barbarians v Australian Under-20s at Chatswood Oval, 7pm.

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