Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Steyn

Invest in SA, or our kids’ future?

Tank Lanning

School rugby lost the plot a while back. The national rankings are the icing on the cake, but throw in the Saturday morning TV games, sponsored tight fit jerseys, and the completely out of control contracting of players at U16 level, and what we have on our hands is the stuffing up of what used to be the country’s greatest rugby asset.

Instead of being a factory delivering bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, highly-skilled youngsters in need of some polishing before even contemplating the pro ranks, the system now delivers over-hyped young men who think they piss eau de cologne, are coached to win instead of entertain, and believe the rugby world owes them a favour.

But this little conundrum pales into insignificance when compared to what is going down in Bloemfontein!

French Top 14 club Montpellier have launched a scholarship programme at world-renowned rugby school, Grey College. Basically, thinly-disguised as a scholarship, Montpellier are hijacking the school that has produced the second-most Springboks of all time, in order to set up their own feeder system of young, talented players.

A businessman with links to the French club, who wishes to remain anonymous, has set up the Badawi Legacy Scholarship Programme at the school, and has committed to make the following contributions over the next five years:

  • Fund the appointment of a French language teacher for a period of five years.
  • Provide funding to support at least 50 scholarship holders.
  • Secure a commitment from Montpellier Rugby Club to make available certain resources including a commitment to sharing coaching methods and a coach exchange programme.

The school says the scholarship programme will be awarded on a means-tested basis to scholars who lack similar or readily available alternatives. Scholarship holders will need to demonstrate potential in leadership and/or academia, and particularly the sport of rugby.

Note the last part of that sentence!

“As a modern society,” reads the statement from the school, “it is our duty to provide our students with an environment within which they can create the best possible tomorrow for everyone. A tomorrow in which South Africans will succeed in the context of unprecedented levels of globalisation and technological advance.”

How traumatically and disturbingly unpatriotic! Well that was my initial reaction, but then I gave the subject further thought…

Rugby at school should be about building a skills base and being encouraged to utilise said skills while having a complete jol. There is plenty of time after school for those skills to be coached out of them and replaced with ‘Wen rugby’!

The role of a school like Grey in our young sons’ lives is to make them into better people, in fact the best people they can possibly be. And if that includes being a good – or even a great – rugby player as part of an unbeaten 1st XV, excellent. If not, the sun will still come up tomorrow.

Produce an arrogant ponce who has not the time for a teammate’s younger brother after a game, though, or a spoilt brat who shakes not the hand of the opposition after a loss, and they have failed.

But with rugby now a proper career choice, and given the ‘pull factor’ of foreign currency and the ‘push factor’ of local politics, perhaps schools should be playing a more proactive role in the creation of “The best possible tomorrow for everyone”?

The tragically sad part of it is that the best possible tomorrow for kids in school today might not lie in South Africa.

- Tank Lanning

Let's chat

  • Chris Mouton

    This is unbelievably sad. Good job, Zuma. You and your cronies have forced an excellent local school to do this and those talented youngsters will now never play for the National team. Hell, I doubt they’ll even see Super Rugby or Currie Cup. Will this have a snowball effect? Will Paul Roos, Affies, Paarl Gim, etc. follow in Grey’s footsteps?

  • C Derksen

    Mr. Lanning, thank you for the article, much of which I agree with (including the conclusion).
    As Old Grey and Director of the Badawi Trust, I’d like to make the following clarifications with reference to your statements (a) “Basically, thinly-disguised as a scholarship, Montpellier are hijacking the school that has produced the second-most Springboks of all time, in order to set up their own feeder system of young, talented players.” and (b) “Scholarship holders will need to demonstrate potential in leadership and/or academia, and particularly the sport of rugby.Note the last part of that sentence!”
    1. I note your use of the word “hijack” which interpreted in the context of the current political situation in South Africa is unfair at best. This project is the result of a voluntary engagement between the donor, Grey College, and the directors of Badawi (such as myself) who acted on a pro-bono basis in the interest of Grey College and its boys.
    2. I can confirm that the recorded objective of the Badawi scholarship programme pertains to enabling talented students, where they don’t have similar alternatives available to them, to attend Grey College.
    3. I can also confirm that there is no contractual or other obligation on any of the recipients of the programme to play rugby in France (or at all), or to repay the scholarships.
    4. The donor specified rugby potential in combination with academic and / or leadership qualities as a qualifying criteria, which in my view signals a nobler intent than what the article implies. The rugby (only) primadonna which you describe above will unfortunately not qualify for a scholarship which in my view is an outcome which you and I both endorse.
    With best wishes, and feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss it further.
    Chris Derksen

    • hopeful

      I salute you and congratulate you….recognition of talent and assisting those that have it is worth applause.

      The real reason an accusation of pilfering or hijacking has been raised is because we will suffer losses and we will see more youngsters leave before playing for the pride of their country….harsh reality and 100% factual…..but….

      1.1 Where do you go when talent is second to quota?

      1.2 What choice have you got when race determines your future?

      1.3 Does one “Jol” in high school and piss away their talent afterwards because they will never surpass Currie cup or super rugby levels?

      I say congrats to the French….thanks for giving kids of any colour or creed in Grey and opportunity…..before you respond with race percentages at the school just relax….the school is traditionally an Afrikaans school which already marginalizes the demographic.

      To the scholars – Play your hearts out, have fun and make use of this opportunity…..if it lands you a contract be greatful to the program….if it puts you in a French jersey be proud…

      How is it that a French clubs willingness to throw money, skills and opportunities has been questioned?…..talent comes at a cost…..and if you want the talent you pay for it….

      Surely our anger should be directed at our own governing bodies lack of presence…..or perhaps the political motives influencing rugby?

      And let’s be honest….as much as the quota will effect some talent….there’s a bigger problem being SARU’S lack of vision spotting true talent of all races….

      My rant….no rugby qualifications….no coaching pedigree….just a fan losing hope:…

      • Mark

        Well said and so true, soon France will have more SA players in their national team and Scotland as well!!

    • Sharky

      So I suppose Montpellier is involved out of the goodness of their heart and that they are not at all interested in directing a conveyor belt of SA youth rugby talent northwards. In reality, no business invests in a project unless it will benefit them (either directly or via a halo effect). As Montpellier is a French club I doubt this association is designed to create halo effect. But what other benefit could they possible get out of this?

      Well, Grey is a well-known Mecca of rugby talent with promising youngsters from around SA playing for Grey every weekend. So by tapping into the school Montpellier are in effect tapping into a product produced by Grey’s reputation and their recruiters – a Harrods of SA youth rugby. And I can not think of a better place in SA for a foreign club to shop. But wait, the boerseuns in Bloem don’t speak French, so surely they’ll struggle to integrate into a French team let alone French society. I know!! Let’s teach them French too! There we go, now we have a ready-to-eat product fit for French consumption. Just be sure to teach the boys how to sing La Marseillaise too!

      • Mark

        What do you expect with Quotas and Affirmative Action and Nepotism in SA rugby? Australian Rugby has also targeted Craven Week a few years ago? If ALL SA teams are not chosen on merit only our rugby will just go down the drain!

        • Sharky

          Well then let’s work on that rather than start shipping our kids off to France! I’d rather the Springboks become a non-national, invitation team based in London who can select who they want than lose all our up-and-coming talent to France.

          • hopeful

            That would be an educated assessment of what may transpire but this is Africa and unpredictability is our game….

            The unfortunate point is that politics has no place in sport and talent should be celebrated and not substituted…..what precedent are we setting for players coming through…..race will guarantee you a place?…..I say screw that, it’s damaging and an insult for the guys training day in and day out who will eventually be there on credit…..imagine being the “Token Springbok”…..and way to often harsh judgement is passed on guys that have been selected and misfired, I can name numerous white players who shared the same fate….

            Anyway enough about race and politics we deal with that rubish daily and truth be told I find it tedious….it’s a weapon that will eventually be replaced….

            It’s a shame we are diminishing young talent but luckily there is an outlet for them…..the reality is we are already fielding a 1/4 of a third string team….

          • Sharky

            Hopeful, here’s my take on the field of play for young players. It’s a bit long-winded so bear with me.

            I’m not as pessimistic as you – at least not in the long-term. The ANC may self-correct following Zuma – resulting in a Ramaphosa presidency. This may be good in the ANC and for SA in the short-term as it will rejuvenate the ANC’s supporter base and provide a measure of political stability for SA. But in the long-term it will allow the ANC to retain its parliamentary majority and keep it primed for abuse by future Zumas – simply delaying the alternative scenario. The alternative scenario is Dlamini-Zuma (or other Zuma-esque person) taking over the ANC resulting in the ANC winning the next election by a reduced majority (maybe even slightly less than 50%). Cue the decline in ANC support, gradual loss of power and massive unrest and damage to the country and its institutions with ANC cadres sitting in governmental organs making life as hard as possible for any now-opposition party to govern effectively. So if the ANC is dislodges I foresee 2 or 3 election cycles of turmoil until the ANC’s parliamentary representation is reduced to 30-35%. Then SA can rebuild.

            These two scenarios function as feedback loops with the one potentially tracking back to the other multiple times. But the ultimate outcome is ANC support dropping below 40% which will allow SA to become an actual democracy and more than a one-party state. This could take 20 years, it could take 50 years.

            The question then is: do you want your kids to be trying to make a living and eke out an existence in SA while all of this is going on? I can understand why the answer may be no. I can also understand the lure of foreign currency and foreign assets when the future of the Rand and Rand-denominated assets look shaky.

            Do I begrudge young players moving abroad? No. Would I prefer them to stay in SA and for the Boks to prosper? Hell yes!! Personally I would look to serve my country before taking 5 or so years off in Europe at the end of my career to earn the big bucks. But not everyone thinks like me.

            So where does that leave us? To be honest, it probably means that in time the majority of young SA players will take up their first contracts abroad and as a result SARU will be forced to allow foreign-based players to represent the Boks (without restrictions) or alternatively resign themselves to fielding a 3rd string Bok team. In short, the Boks will become (like Bafana) a team comprised of foreign-based players.

          • hopeful

            I couldn’t agree more but it’s a pipe dream, South Africa will drown itself in politics and every race will suffer for it…..let’s not be naive and think stupidity and politics only affects one race, brilliant players of colour seem to get overlooked as well….so in all honesty would you rather see talent lost in the local mess or flourishing abroad?

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Thanks for clearing that up Chris. Much appreciated …

      • hopeful

        Tank let me poke the bear…..draft a piece highlighting lost talent abroad and ask why they have truly left our shores….

  • Arch Rautenbach

    France is doing the same in the Pacific Islands. They established a Rugby Academy in Fiji to rope in good talent.

  • Luke

    The colonies are always up for plunder by the ex Colonial masters. On the one hand we all need a plan b, on the other this approach is somewhat defeatist and therein lies the tragedy. Not that we have some badly behaved public officials ready to dump the country into junk status if they profit; the issue for me is that we all role over and take it like its par for the course in Africa. To each their own, and why shouldn’t the kids in Grey get to go to France if the opportunity beckons? This whole leave as victims story line, however is disturbing and more because the victim plays their role so well. Get-up stand-up, stand-up for your rights! If you feel their being trampled… or leave to play rugby in France.

    • Sharky

      Luke, I agree with a lot of what you say. In this day and age the victim card trumps everything else. Hence everyone wants to be the victim – if you’re black it’s apartheid, if you’re white it’s BBBEE, if you’re an EFF supporting student flouting the law you’re being victimized by your racist school etc. etc. At least most of us on this site have the option to move abroad if we really want to. Spare a thought for the majority of South Africans who do not have the means to move to greener pastures no matter how bleak things get in SA.

      But on the flip-side, if all the talented people just up sticks and move abroad then SA will be even worse off than it is now. It kinda becomes a self-fulfilling philosophy – you leave because you feel the country is going to the dogs but by leaving you help the country go to the dogs.

  • francois williams

    Wait till China gets onto the game…

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