Back big schools to find Boks

Dawie Boonzaaier

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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Follow Dawie on Twitter: @dawiboon

- Dawie Boonzaaier

Let's chat

  • Nick

    When have SA rugby EVER managed the talent at any schools? What utter rubbish! SA rugby have ALWAYS had the benefit of onnies and parents and governing bodies across the country keeping the game alive and healthy for mostly nothing and the love of it.

    No problem with talented players being supported to attend the big 25 schools by the way, They have their place, but this attitude expressed here is killing our game in it’s tracks. Try to understand that rugby is not only for those with professional aspirations.
    Do you truly believe this is how we can grow the game in SA?

    Utter rubbish!

  • Nick

    ‘Pour funds’…..LOL

  • Barry

    I would tend to agree with Nick , Government do not have money for electricity let alone funding Rugby schools!

    The current status is likely to continue, where schools and business find a way to perpetuate our school rugby systems!

    Development and interest at grass routes level across the board remains virtually unaddressed by Government. It is only isolated organizations like Rugby Legends that do any development work!

  • Nick

    Interestingly, when you go back further, and look at what schools Springboks went to, the range was much wider. Look it up yourself. We are going in the absolute WRONG direction and this article shows absolutely no understanding or sympathy with the idea of spreading and growing our rugby culture. I can only hope this is a misinformed ‘Non mainstream media/talented youngster’ being given a platform to spout this drivel, And not a reflection of the strategic thinking of those higher up. This expresses nothing but a race to the bottom and the last few nails in the coffin of our great rugby culture.

    Many schools are practically on their knees financially and in terms of recruiting the staff they could years ago to coach the game. It’s a serious problem. The bedrock of our rugby is at tipping edge. Lekker if you have the means to attend one of the top schools in the country, good for you if you do! But the vast majority of our kids do not get to play a decent standard of rugby through their schools anymore. Articles like the above speed up this race to the bottom if they’re taken seriously.

    I am more and more convinced that to grow the game clubs need to continue to pick up the baton here and grow their junior rugby sections. It also means greater participation and involvement in clubs by the community. This is how it’s done in most parts of the world. Not Ideal, but maybe all that we can do. It is a sad day when a small Dorp or suburban school can no longer field a proud 1st xv and give rugby opportunities to youngsters, even if the really talented ones get snapped up. Ultimately that is a good thing.
    Look at what happened to Welsh rugby when they stopped playing it at school.

    • Barry

      Yes it’s true, the net has been far wider in years past. There was also the emphasis on players from neighboring territories. Lest we forget that a number of our successful Springbok Captains were from The territories- think for example, Garry Teichmann, Corne’ Krige Bob Skinstad. Also Beast of course and further back Ray Mordt, David Smith. David Pocock who moved to Auss.

      The All Blacks have for years drawn players from the Islands to bolster their pool of talent, yet we have drifted away from regional talent for some reason!

  • John Comyn

    The way I understand it works is the unions have scouts who do the recruiting. I’m not sure about other provinces but at WP juniors are invited to join the academy from the age of 16. In essence the responsibility for developing talent lies with the unions.

    • Barry

      But even that system is in need of a rethink. It remains clicky, with the great divide playing a role. Look for example at the Stellies Vs UCT, issue where talent is drawn from one or the other, but seldom both, depending on who is in charge at the time!

      It has allowed very obvious talent to slip through the ranks. Take PSDT, who was accommodated by the Sharks academy for example.

  • Jasper

    This has been ongoing for a very long time. Top players have been offered bursaries at the elite rugby schools even when I entered high school around 1990…probably well before that. Lately it has gone to ludicrous levels of simple, old school “poaching” – even among these elite schools. Personally I do not agree with any of it. You often get quality players sitting back in 2nd 15’s in these schools which never get proper exposure. I have often seen great kids with lots of potential in lesser known schools opt for hockey because, even though they still had a champion U/13 side, all their top players have been scooped up by the elite rugby schools by the time they start their high school years and they simply feel they cannot compete any more. I have long been an advocate for the expanded Curry Cup…like the golden days when all the provinces competed (even Nam and Rhodesia), exposing a much greater portion of our talent pool to measuring up against the very best we have in offer. New Zealand does that, yet we in South Africa are often surprised on how big the Kiwi talent pool and how effortlessly their young unknowns seem to make the step up to the higher levels. It is all about exposure.

  • Nick

    Fully agree jasper. You’ve summed it up here. This over concentration of players is destroying us. Ja, our elite schools smash the kiwi schools but why is it they beat us where it counts? Exactly, spread the net.

  • Nick

    Sia kolisi showed great leadership today insisting on the kick to get the draw at the end. He had to control the impulsive brainlessness of dupessis and willemse who wanted to go for touch. Great job SA teams this weekend. Time for a good pinotage.

  • Nick

    Spot on jasper. Great weekend for SA rugby. Great leadership by kolisi.

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