When boys outgrow Boks

2014-07-05 00:00

ANDRE Smith watched his 13-year-old son break his wrist “tackling a guy ­double his size”.

And Naudene Nel gasped as she watched her own primary school boy try to tackle a boy 60 kg heavier than him at the same under-13 rugby tournament in Glenwood, Durban, this week.

“Marcus went flying about five ­metres; just bounced off him,” she said.

The U13 Coca-Cola Craven Week at Glenwood High School featured the largest 12- and 13-year-olds yet seen at the national junior rugby competition, ­triggering alarm over safety among some parents, and proposals that boys compete in weight divisions in future.

A total 18 of the primary school boys were listed in the programme at over 80 kg, while a prop for the South Western Districts team featured the highest-ever recorded weight of 116 kg — bigger than Springbok Bismarck du Plessis.

He was up against boys like KwaZulu-Natal’s Jordan Bamber, who weighs 42 kg, in a size gap three times greater than what we see in professional rugby. One Limpopo Blue Bulls player weighed only 38 kg.

Mandla Hlophe, the parent of another KZN team member, said: “I am new to the game myself, but it seems to me the size difference must be a problem. The small boys are knocked like toys.”

And Anele Groenewald said her son — who had not yet graduated puberty — was “up against boys with all this testosterone raging around”.

Meanwhile, Springbok legend André Venter — who was in Durban to support his son — echoed other dads in saying “boys seem to be getting bigger — I can’t remember boys this size when I was that age. But that could be because they are being drawn from a big pool.

“The kids don’t worry about it — they are passionate, and this is where their dreams are made.”

All parents interviewed by Weekend Witness agreed that Glenwood’s organising of the tournament was “outstanding”, and described the medical help on hand as “excellent”.

But Smith — who travelled from Limpopo to support his son — said he had counted 28 injuries in three days.

He insisted that “it’s rugby — you live with it”.

Earlier, Clint Redhead, SA Rugby’s medical manager, said research showed the most common injuries had nothing to do with size differences.

But Redhead confirmed that Saru had received proposals that junior rugby be played by weight grade, rather than age division, as happens in some parts of New Zealand.

“We had Professor Mike Lambert of UCT do research for us a few year ago and he concluded that there is no difference in the injury risks involved when age-grade and weight-grade rugby is compared,” he said.

“It can’t be good to take a boy away from his peers and put him among players who are older and more mature than he is. We believe that outweighs any benefits there may be to having games were everyone is roughly the same size.”

Pinetown sports scientist Barry Dyer said a move to weight divisions is something that Saru could consider.

“It is an idea that has the potential to work well. There can be such a difference in rates of growth among young players, and such a move could reduce the risk of injury and enhance talent development,” he said.

“But there are other social and psychological factors which need to be considered. A move to divisions based on weight alone may lead to some instances where much younger but heavier players compete against older kids, and more muscular kids compete against smaller kids with higher body fat percentages.”

Dyer said that there was no clear reason why kids at primary school level ­appeared to be getting bigger.

WHAT THE PARENTS SAID:

KOOT Nel, from Boland, said his 53-kilogram son grinned when he learnt that a dozen of his ­opponents in Durban this week would be double his size.

“He took a look at the names and the kilos and said, “Wow, 116 kilos. I’m impressed”,” said Nel.

Philip de Kock, from Pretoria, was cheering his son in Glenwood this week – the star flyhalf for the under-13 Blue Bulls team, who weighs in at 51 kg.

“I actually think it’s great that these big boys have been picked — there’s no other sport where they can have the pride of competing. I say well done for picking [them].”

Another Pretoria parent, Frans Groenewald, said: “It’s ­actually a disadvantage to have the really big guys at this level — the scrum is unbalanced, and the other team target these boys for line-breaks.

“These kids are clever; they know how to turn size into a ­disadvantage.”

His son said he was one of the smaller props at 75 kg. “They try to intimidate, but it’s not stressful. It’s about technique.”

Andre Smith, from Limpopo, said a tackle on a giant opponent that left his son injured “shows a lot of heart”.

“[My son] is a wing, a small guy, but he has the heart of a lion. Of course as a parent you are always concerned, but the kids are prepared and they have put in the training.”

Editor’s Note: The Press Code guides the media to exercise “exceptional care and consideration when reporting on children” especially when “there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child”. As a result we have decided not to name some of the children in this report.

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