Whither the black fly-half?

2013-07-14 14:00

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Despite a large number of good players of colour in junior provincial tournaments, SA rugby has not unearthed a potential international black number 10, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku.

Yesterday saw the conclusion of the 50th Craven Week, South Africa’s flagship schoolboy rugby event, in Polokwane.

It is the pinnacle of three weeks of interprovincial schoolboy rugby, which started with the Under-13 Week in Bela-Bela, Limpopo in the first week of July, the Grant Khomo Under-16 Week in Vanderbijlpark and the Under-18 Academy Week in Durban.

The weeks showcased that South Africa’s schoolboy rugby, which extends to its excellence at Under-20 level, is in rude health but they also showed up a glaring lack of players of colour in the important fly half position.

While most of the positions revealed black players coming to the fore, the fly-half position, the team’s heartbeat, is still decidedly white.

Blue Bulls Under-16 coach and Hoërskool Garsfontein director of rugby Francois de Kock said the lack of black fly-halves was down to a socioeconomic issue rather than a lack of talented players.

“It’s often about their background, where they don’t have a father or a brother who were top-flight players,” said De Kock.

“In the years to come, you will have more black number 10s coming through the system because there will be a bigger professional base culture in which they will be nurtured and be able to fall back on.”

It is an assertion with which Sharks Under-16 coach Grant Bell agrees, saying that the lack of a support structure at home has a big impact on the development of black play makers.

“It has a lot to do with ball skills from an early age as I think that many fly-halves work with their fathers from an early age. Their understanding of the game, not just in terms of footwork and speed, but the sense of being able to control a game, needs to be coached into a boy at an early age or discovered and developed at an early age,” said Bell.

“I don’t know if I can put my finger on it and say that it is a culturally specific thing, because I’ve seen some really good black fly-halves, but they haven’t translated into senior structures.”

Bell highlighted the chasing of quotas by provincial unions as one of the biggest killers of black players, saying that there is a rush to fill up numbers.

“Maybe people are concerned about their quotas and they are looking for quality players to bring into their region and they tend not to be concerned as to which position they play. They just want to bring them in,” he said.

In Jameel Warnick, the Bulls Under-18 Craven Week team has a competent coloured fly-half of Cape origin, but the Pretoria union’s recruitment policy, which it uses to identify players from schools in the region to award with bursaries and thus lure them away, doesn’t sit well with Boland Under-16 coach Martin Dyason.

The Swartland first team mentor said finances did play a role in the movement of players, but this defeats the notion of home-grown talent.

Warnick was one of a few quality black play makers on show in Polokwane, along with South Western District’s Dewald Human, Border’s Lungelo Gosa, Boland’s Fabio Afrika, Western Province’s Siya Alam and Eastern Province Country District’s Jason Vers.

“At provincial level, player poaching is also an issue, but players can move around easily. At schools, it is a different scenario altogether as they will develop a star player only to lose him without a replacement,” said Dyason.

“Those guys we lose can get the same opportunities they get from the Bulls from our union academically but we can’t match the Bulls’ financial muscle. We just hope they are treated well.”

Border Under-18 Craven Week coach Lefty Dakuse said the lack of black fly-halves was often down to what coaches wanted.

In Gosa, Border possess a tactically astute fly-half whose game management came to the fore in Border’s 37-19 win over Boland, despite their pack taking a beating for much of the game.

“I believe for a team to have flair, a talented fly-half is a prerequisite. However, it is a key position where you need someone who you believe in and will listen to you.

“Black fly-halves are not scarce, but it comes down to what coaches want and most of the time they will go for the reliable option, which usually involves having a kicking fly-half.”

South African Under-20 coach Dawie Theron did not want to be drawn on the lack of black fly- halves, instead focusing on the number of black players who have progressed in other positions.

“There must be opportunities for the players to play and when they do get the opportunities, they must grab them,” said Theron.

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