There’s no way that SA Rugby can effectively manage the talent of over 420 high schools across the country.
The governing body can’t be expected to pour funds into remote places like Garies High School, just because the school has two rugby teams and might produce a Springbok in the next 70 years.
Since 1996 South Africa has produced 282 Springboks. Almost 50% of those internationals came from just 25 schools, a figure that represents less than 6% of all the rugby-playing schools in the country.
Yes, nepotism exists, and of course it’s tough for a good player from Phehello High School in Odendaalsrus to be spotted when the Free State selectors can basically pick 20 Grey College players for the Craven Week team.
But these 25 schools also produce Springboks for entirely different reasons than nepotism.
Grey College thumped Christchurch Boys’ 66-28 at the inaugural World Schools Festival in Paarl last year and 73-26 when the teams met in Stellenbosch this year.
Pieter Rossouw, Dawie Theron, Peter Engledow and Paul Anthony are just some of the names of former professional coaches currently plying their trade at high schools. These are professional coaches who can apply their knowledge to young scholars for two or three years.
Take these expertise away, and the top 25 rugby schools also offer conditioning programmes, gym facilities and even tailored diets for players to follow.
So why ask SA Rugby to try and manage the talent of 420 schools, when you can ask between 30 and 40 schools, who have the money, expertise and facilities, to manage this talent for you?
Give these schools the backing to go and scout youngsters from anywhere in the country, and that way you’ll have all your talent pooled together where it can be developed.
The schools are already doing it themselves. Do you really think that all of the 22 Springboks to have graduated from Grey College since 1996 are originally from Bloemfontein?
Do powerhouse schools like Paarl Gim, Paarl Boys’, Boland Landbou and Paul Roos Gim exist because there’s something magical in the water that flows through Stellenbosch and Paarl?
Players like Embrose Papier, Damian Willemse, JD Schickerling and Juarno Augustus would probably not have been household names now if they hadn’t been scouted by rugby schools.
Take the NFL as an example. In 2017, four states (Florida, California, Texas and Georgia) produced more than 55% of all the players in the NFL.
The high schools and colleges in these four states are known for the quality of their recruiting programs.
In South Africa, the fear is that because these 25 schools don’t have to adhere to racial quotas they may hinder national transformation plans.
While Grey College, Paarl Gim, Paul Roos Gim, Monument and Affies are the five schools that have produced the most Springboks since 1996, only two of those Boks have been non-white players.
But this is where SA Rugby could offer incentives to help these schools cater for players from previously disadvantaged areas by offering them the same opportunities as a kid whose parents can afford it.
Only then will we have players launching from the same starting blocks on their journey to becoming Springboks.
Yes, players will still fall through the cracks, but this is not an argument to rewrite the book on Craven Week selection. Players from other schools should still get their fair chance to make it to the top.
In any case, for every RG Snyman (Affies), there’s also a Pieter-Steph du Toit (Swartland). For every Siya Kolisi (Grey High), there’s also a Marco van Staden (Bekker High School).
Great players will find a way.
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