Schools rugby: High time to unclog those pipes of talent
The game shouldn’t revolve around a set of schools, regardless of their pedigree
Last week I had a vigorous social media debate with some tweeps about the quality and the composition of the SA schools team that did battle with their French, English and Welsh counterparts in the Western Cape recently
A theme that emerged, and one that worries me no end, is the thinking that unbeaten schools or the most preeminent ones during a rugby season should be the ones that produce the most SA schools players.
There’s logic in that argument from a combination perspective but what does that do from a talent constriction and centralisation perspective? It leads to the slow strangling of the game at the very same level where the talent pipelines are already clogged by those who have the added advantage of attending schools with serious rugby pedigree.
One cannot dispute the excellence displayed this year by Grey College, Paul Roos Gimnasium (who played in Bloemfontein on Saturday) and Glenwood High School in Durban. They’ve produced really good teams this season and deserve to be at the top of the respective (and often highly flawed) schoolboy ranking systems.However, rugby is a game that’s had difficulty parting its umbilical cord from the apartheid past where it was a major beneficiary, and the fact that transformation isn’t a prerequisite for school teams.
A lot was made of the Grey/Paul Roos game (they’ve produced more than 90 Springboks) and the fact that it was a championship-deciding game as both sides were unbeaten.
However, there is an acute case of amnesia in remembering that school rugby is just a game and part of a conduit that develops players for the bigger SA cause. It is really just that, even though millions of rand flows through the SA schools rugby system.
Rugby shouldn’t revolve around a set of schools, regardless of their pedigree, especially when players (white ones in particular) are leaving SA in droves.
It is also worth noting that these two schools only have one black Springbok (Damian Willemse from Paul Roos) among the swathes they’ve produced.
The idea of wanting to pick a composite schools side from the top three teams (or whoever is good in a particular year) defeats the very purpose of Craven Week.
Craven Week is about having the best players from the schools in a said region going up against each other to find the cream from the other cream.A team may be unbeaten and have good chemistry through years of growing in one system but that doesn’t guarantee that many of the players in the team are good enough to succeed at the highest level. That’s what Craven Week is there for, despite the selection controversies that will always dog some provinces.
Craven Week also sorts out the transformation imbalance prevalent at many of SA’s top rugby schools. While Glenwood does find itself in different transformation territory, SA’s major Afrikaans-speaking rugby schools and some of their English-speaking counterparts aren’t very good at transformation. What we see on TV when these teams play tells us all we need to know about this.
Just to point out this transformation imbalance, the North-South Wilderklawer school teams who will play at Ellis Park on September 15 are picked from the 20 schools that took part in the Super Schools tournament at the end of April. Even then, the majority of black players in the 46-strong contingent are from Glenwood, Welkom Gimnasium and the smaller Southern Cape schools, while only two are from the rugby factories.
There’s also the significant matter of a top Western Cape rugby school whose SA Schools representative hasn’t been deemed good enough to play for the school’s first team in his preferred position – even though the youngster had played Craven Week rugby in his best position for the past two years.
Schools rugby may be the crowning glory for many, but there’s life outside it. The channelling of talent (playing and coaching) in the right direction for the benefit of the broader SA rugby spectrum should be the end game for schools rugby. However, not everyone drinks from this cup of optimism and that’s to be expected. This is SA after all.