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Pedrie Wannenburg: Texas university grateful for tragic ex-Ulster star's time and expertise



Pedrie Wannenburg had been coaching at Rice University Rugby Club

Pedrie Wannenburg had been coaching at Rice University Rugby Club

Pedrie Wannenburg had been coaching at Rice University Rugby Club

When Pedrie Wannenburg hung up his playing boots four years back, the decorated former Ulster favourite, tragically killed in a car crash a fortnight ago, could have justly been described as well-travelled.

After leaving South Africa in 2010 following nearly a decade in the colour of his beloved Bulls, the nomadic seasons that followed brought five different teams in three different countries with the 20-time Springbok never spending more than two years in one spot.

With the last stop of his stellar career coming at Austin’s Major League Rugby franchise however, he and his family would come to lay down roots in the state of Texas in his post-playing days.

Having become part of the rugby community in the area, his untimely passing has hit hard at Rice University Rugby Club, where the 41-year-old had been coaching in the year before his fatal accident.

"As we were searching for coaches, when Pedrie's name came up as someone who we thought maybe could be lured in, I thought it was a wind-up,” remembers Will Miles, president of the team and also a student at the university.

“Looking at those credentials, I was wondering why he'd want to come here. But he'd been in Texas and he’d seen the sport grow here and wanted to help that.

"When he arrived, we were just in awe that he was here, but he'd never want to remind anyone of what he'd done. He was just focused on the game and the club, that was where his interest was.

"It didn't faze him when we'd turn up to some other university and we'd be playing on this terrible field. I was always worried he'd turn up one day and have lost interest but he was always there, always right in it.

"I do a lot of administration stuff off the field, and you'd get a call from Pedrie at like 9pm on a Wednesday night and he'd be wanting to talk about these ideas that he'd had. As a coach, he was just fantastic but he was always thinking ahead too, it really motivated everyone.

"When the pandemic came, the club was struggling. We'd have games and barely be able to field 15 players. Sometimes we'd end up with 14 or 13 and I don't need to tell you how that went.

“But in that season Pedrie was coaching, we didn't lose a league game all year and went to the state championship.”

While naturally the sudden nature of Wannenburg’s death left the club in a state of shock, thoughts quickly turned to how they could help their coach’s family, especially with the crash having left his eight-year-old son Francois requiring hospital treatment.

A Sevens tournament dedicated to Wannenburg’s memory was held last weekend and already a Go Fund Me campaign has raised in excess of $36,000 (£29,000).

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"It's difficult to know what to do, I'd never experienced anything like this,” says Miles.

"But we wanted to help and it’s been moving to see everyone come together. We didn't think it would take off this well and it's not just Texas, there have been several comments from people that played with Pedrie or supported Pedrie in Northern Ireland and South Africa too.

“Hopefully not only can we give the family a nice cheque but they'll be able to see how many people from so many different backgrounds across not just here in the States but the world were impacted by him.”

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