School rugby needs to change

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
After paying a visit to a school rugby game last weekend, someone came up to me and asked if I was distraught at seeing my old school take yet another beating in what has been a rather dire season for the 1st team.

Now I am all for the Saturday afternoon SMS or Tweet giving a mate who went to a different school a little grief over that morning's result, but distraught? Do me a favour? The colour of the jersey my gran is knitting for my son probably concerns me more.

But I know I am in the minority, and that a vast portion of the majority border on obsessing about school rugby results ... and this concerns me.

School rugby results should go in cycles based on the pot luck of the Grade 8 intake 4 or 5 years earlier, meaning you have good years, and then bad years. But I am not that naïve …

FNB Classic Clashes on SuperSport, school rankings on Rugby365 that get spoken about every Monday on 5FM, schoolboy jerseys carrying not just one main sponsor, but a few minor ones as well, coaches abusing referees after games, agents taking on schoolboy players and negotiating bursaries at top schools, 15 000 plus crowds at big games, parents and coaches encouraging steroid use ... schoolboy rugby borders on being professional!

So much so that SARU recently put out a new regulation insisting that if a union wishes to contract a schoolboy rugby player, it has to inform the boy's home union first, thus giving them a chance to offer the boy a competitive contract. Also - unions are only allowed to contract players when they are over the age of 18, and recruiting of players at Craven Week is now forbidden.


It's no wonder that a few of them come out of school thinking that rugby owes them a favour. And having coached at Under-20 level, I have seen a few of these prima donnas come properly unstuck when having to take on the local club side on a cabbage patch of a field at 12:30 in front of just their parents and a single flea infested dog.

But more importantly, by giving schoolboy rugby so much of the spotlight, focusing on results in leagues, and making the weekly rankings such a big thing, I believe we are teaching these guys to play “winning” rugby rather than focusing on skills and encouraging them to have a go from anywhere on the field.

Talent we have in spades, but many SA coaches are bemoaning the lack of skill in our players - simple things like being able to pass to the right, get one's arms through the tackle to off-load, side step and set up a switch ... and I believe this is because schoolboys are now playing the box kick and chase, take the points via a sharp shooter kind of game. I even saw that pesky worm behind a ruck on Saturday!

But schoolboy rugby should be about enjoying the game and scoring brave 85m tries using daring skills in a festival type environment. And in the process producing highly skilled players who can then choose whether or not to have a go at the professional game.

Pro coaches will then have more rounded players at their disposal, and might be more inclined to play a more exiting brand of rugby. But perhaps more importantly, those players heading to the more relaxed club environment, won't have such massive expectations, and will continue to play the game.

Look, one can't blame the schoolboys themselves. Everyone likes a little attention. I remember all too well waiting for that Monday Cape Times school rugby supplement to see if our game that weekend had been featured. So this is going to have to come from the governing bodies, provinces and schools themselves.

So how about banning rankings, disallowing branding on schoolboy kit, banning the drop kick, making tries worth six points, and making penalties and conversions worth one point?

It would be silly to deny any sponsorship, but perhaps channel that via SARU and the provincial unions, allowing limited pole and field side branding, using that money to finance development bursaries via a draft type system. And select teams for the televised games based on the amount of tries they score and style of play.

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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