Robert Brunsdon

South African Robert Brunsdon is in his fourth year of working for Greenwood farmer Ricky Belk through the H2A work visa program, which allows foreign agricultural workers to come to America for seasonal work. Brunsdon and nine fellow countrymen will play rugby against the Ole Miss and Mississippi State teams Sunday in Oxford.

Bill Burrus

Rugby is a serious matter in South Africa.

Depending on whom you ask, it’s the most popular sport in the southernmost country in Africa.

When Robert Brunsdon tells you its the biggest sport in his home country, you don’t argue with the chiseled 6-foot-4, 245-pound brute.

“It’s our thing. It’s what we love, kind of like what many Americans feel about football,” said Brunsdon, 25, who has worked 10 months out of the year for the past four years for Greenwood farmer Ricky Belk through the H2A program.

An H2A is a temporary visa for foreign workers with a job offer for seasonal agricultural work in the United States. The H2A visa program is open to nationals of countries that the United States secretary of homeland security has designated as eligible to participate and is revised annually.

Brunsdon and three other South African workers live in a house on one of Belk’s farms near Money.

All of them have a strong rugby background. Brunsdon played the rugged team sport for his home state of Eastern Providence before multiple concussions knocked him out of the game.

Two of his co-workers, Divan Vermeulen and Estain Meiring, have experience with the South African national team.

Brunsdon and Vermeulen played rugby for the same high school — Marlow Agricultural High School in Cradock. But because Brunsdon was several years older, they never played on the same team together.

That all is about to change, though.    

Brunsdon has been so hungry for one last taste of rugby that he started working on an idea last spring in which he and nine other countrymen who work in the area could play an exhibition match against the rugby team from Ole Miss.

After months of pursuing the idea, the plan has come to fruition.

Their team, Tiger Rugby, will play Ole Miss as well as Mississippi State Sunday in Oxford. Action will start at 2 p.m.

“I feel like we can win. We’ve been practicing hard,” he said. “I am a really bad loser, so we’ve got to really get after them. This will be my very last rugby match. It’ll be nice to end my career in America.”

Belk said Brunsdon first came up with the idea while attending an Ole Miss football game with the Belk family.

Sunday’s matches will feature a 7-on-7 format rather than the normal 15-on-15, since Tiger Rugby will only have 10 players.

“I feel like the college teams will be faster, but we will be stronger,” Brunsdon said. “We have a game plan to play to our strength, so we will see if we can make it work.”

Following the matches, Belk will hold at his Oxford condo what the South Africans hope is a victory party. He said anyone who goes up to watch is welcome to attend the festivities.

Brunsdon enjoys his time working in the Mississippi Delta and will likely come back again next year. When he is not working on the farm, he enjoys hunting and working out.

“I am amazed at the medical service you can get here. It’s much better than at home,” said Brunsdon, who recently had fluid drained off his knee. “And then you got the people. I like the people here because they make you feel comfortable.”

Brunsdon and the other South Africans will leave for home Nov. 19, and he certainly doesn’t plan on going back without bragging rights.           

Contact Bill Burrus at 581-7237 or bburrus@gwcommonwealth.com.

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