Joshua Booysen is a name you probably haven’t heard before. But to the Argentina sevens team, he is one of the most important parts of their annual visits to South Africa on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Back in 2006, while the team were on a standard training run through George, they managed to pick up an extra player along the way. Following them all the way was a young boy none of them had ever seen before. Despite the pace, he kept going, to the surprise of the players and coaches. One of those players at the time was the all-time sevens try-scoring record holder Santiago Gomez Cora, the current coach of the Argentina side.
“We were talking among ourselves and he started to repeat some of the words in Spanish,” he said. “We found it really funny. He kept following us. The day after that we came out of the hotel and he was waiting for us and started to repeat those words again in Spanish.
“We asked him what his name was and whether he wanted to come with us to training. Then later that day he was in the hotel and we asked him to come and eat with us. That’s how we first met Joshua.”
Living an hour outside George, Joshua’s life was far removed from the lives of the Argentina players on the series. His father died in jail and he also lost his brother. A basic hut in the forests just outside of George was where he lived day-to-day. So when given the opportunity to join the team at meals, training and pitch-side at the tournament, it was an opportunity out of nowhere for the young South African.
“One night after training it was getting dark so we offered to drive Joshua home,” said Gomez Cora. “We went in the van, and he was very ashamed about his house. When we arrived it was a very poor house in the middle of the jungle. I said I had known him for three or four years and I wanted to meet his parents. We started to talk and they told me how every year Joshua waited for Argentina to arrive at the tournament. It was what he looked forward to the most.”
The Argentina side even began taking a close interest in his studies in South Africa, and would regularly speak to his mother to find out how he had been progressing.
“We used to speak to his mum and ask how he was doing. If she told us he had passed his year we would send him presents and clothes from Argentina.”
When the tournament moved to Port Elizabeth in 2011, the team didn’t expect Joshua to turn up given the 330km, four-hour drive between the two locations. But, to their surprise he was there. Waiting at the hotel. And now, the team are in Cape Town for the first time and he is again here, with the help of Argentina.
“He grows with us and supports us,” Gomez Cora said. “We met him as a boy and now he is 21. He started to work. We said you have to do something with your life and to start playing rugby. He started playing three years ago and has now finished school and has started work.
“He is always on the corner waiting for us with the water. In the hotel with food. He is something very special to us and means a lot to us. He is part of the team. We know when we go to South Africa he is going to be here. He is part of the team and we need him with us here.”
Despite Joshua’s unwavering support to the Argentina team, he has told Gomez Cora that this year will be his last because of work, a career that can be owed in large part to the Argentina team’s support and encouragement over the years. From one chance meeting on the roads of George to Cape Town nine years later, it’s been a whirlwind friendship yet Gomez Cora jokes that Joshua still needs to improve on one thing.
“His Spanish is horrible! He needs to practice a bit more! Perhaps we will be seeing Joshua again at Cape Town next year as a new chapter of his life unfolds."