Junior Boks aren’t what you think

Craig Ray

The Junior Boks jet off to Argentina today to make an assault on the World Rugby U20 Championship over the next three weeks with most observers having written off their chances already.

That’s an understandable position given that SA U20 last won the title on home soil in 2012. It was also the only time they have won it in this format.

Twitter has been awash with critics of the squad, lamenting that only a handful of players in the squad attended South Africa’s preeminent rugby schools – Grey College, Paarl Boys High, Paarl Gym, Paul Roos, and Affies.

But perception and reality are often skewed because our individual schools tend to win comfortably against top NZ high schools when they meet. The argument therefore is that the Junior Boks should easily continue that winning way against the rest of the of the world simply by filling squads with the best players from those schools.

That’s a massive oversimplification of the situation for many reasons, but it seems to be the predominant logic on social media.

Firstly, the majority of the U21 winning teams of 1999, 2002 and 2005 were not from the big five.

In 2005 there were only eight players out of the 27-man squad from those five schools. In 2002 the number was six out of 27 and in 1999 there were only five out of 29 players used. Even more recently in the 2012 winning team, there were only six out of 31 players from those schools.

And it has always been that way. Some years there are more and some less, but the big five schools have never provided the backbone of the Junior Bok team in terms of player numbers.

How those players from top schools are falling out and missing out is a column for another day but the reality is that SA has many schools providing opportunities to players with potential.

Let’s also get this out of the way – those top five schools have produced very few black players, which is one of the pillars of SA Rugby’s contract with government. Junior Bok coach Chean Roux and the entire national Rugby department has to find and nurture Test quality black players and meet transformation targets of 50%.

I can already hear the argument that it proves that transformation weakens sides but that is again a gross over-simplification.

As we’ve already shown, successful Junior Bok teams are not reliant on the top five schools in the country.

There is not one dominant school with predominantly black players, which is why Roux and his colleagues have to target the right players as young as possible. And they generally aren’t going to the top five schools.

Furthermore, the argument that Grey College, Paarl Boys High, and Paul Roos regularly thrash NZ’s top schools is proof of their right to fill Junior Bok teams ad infinitum is over simplified.

Most NZ schools are filled with players from their local area and very few are drafted as is the case here. So they have up and down years dependent on the crop of players.

Also school rugby in NZ is important but not as important as club rugby, where most of their top talent develops. It’s not comparing apples with apples.

Another misconception is that the Junior Boks’ failure to won the world championships for six years provides further evidence of how far we’ve fallen behind NZ in particular.

The reality is that the Junior Boks have beaten NZ the last four times they have played since 2014. What has changed is that the northern hemisphere structures at junior level have drastically improved in the last decade.

Between 1999-2012 the Southern Hemisphere’s big three had won the various World Championships all but once, France winning a lone U21 world title.

In the last five years at the U20 World Champs England have won three times and France once while Wales and Ireland have also been runners-up. There has been a distinct shift north where players are groomed, not at schools, but at clubs.

That is perhaps the lesson we should be learning. In SA our schools play a vital role in player development but they only go so far.

The drop-off in participation and vital game management and skills development immediately after school via a club is missing. Only the cream are drafted into the provincial system and of those only a few make it to the top.

There is no one system that works, but in SA we have lost a crucial step that people such as Roux have to bridge as they try to develop World Championship-winning teams. 

- Craig Ray

Let's chat

  • Barry

    As I understand it, the Northern hemisphere have a warm up competition along the lines of the Six Nations. This gives them the opportunity to settle as a side under match conditions. We need to some how emulate this process to give our chaps a fair and even chance!

    Sorry, but just absolutely against any form of racial selection in Sport – it’s just plain wrong and illegal for that matter! Where ever selections are made on the basis of anything other than performance, you create an element of doubt and mistrust and from that point onwards you’re already in trouble!

    • Herman

      Totally agree, you cannot engineer teams according to political demands which is nothing but reverse racism. The Nats did it for yonks and were hounded out of world rugby, why the silence from the world now ? Cheers.

  • John Comyn

    I wish the boys good luck. I just want to get this out of the way – as long as any team has to be picked based on demographics or any other criteria they are not playing on a level playing field! That said this looks like a good side and I wish them the best. My bet is that if one did the research they mostly come from very good rugby schools even if not from the schools mentioned. As do the players of color in the current Bok setup.

    • Dean Bright

      Sitting on the fence hey John

  • Nick

    Barry, It’s also important to look at POTENTIAL PERFORMANCE for a junior team selection like this. I can’t help thinking that well fed, supported, looked after players from elite schools with every possible facility made available to them will naturally perform well.

    It also stands to reason that potentially more talented players at this particular age are likely to perform less well due to a lack of the environment and support I have just described.
    I would therefore agree with the article, and add that SA rugby needs to look at how they actually add value and support those less advantaged. We will never mine our best talent by krapping around in one tired old corner.

    The point made in this article that our real weakness is actually in the club system rings true to me.

    Nowadays, if youngsters are not selected into pro pathway during/after school they just stop playing. ‘Entitled’ kids are often encouraged by a built in excuse that ‘quota’s’ deny them opportunities. I hear this in discussion all the time. The most average of young players use this as their default excuse. heartily encouraged by parents normally. Unless some kind of pro contract is offered, daddie’s little prince stops playing, blaming the burning injustice of ‘illegal and morally wrong’ affirmative action. It’s all about money, even pretend money they feel entitled to. Some players on missing selection to an u/19 provincial/pro set-up, actually stop playing altogether and concentrate entirely on gyming up for the next u/20 trial opportunity. Hard to quantify this, but the general loss of rugby iq and development due to this approach must be immense. The ‘me’ generation.
    Add to that the older players who nowadays just work longer hours and have less time than people in the past did.

    It seems to me that in New Zealand, England, France and other countries, the vast majority of rugby players are keen to play regardless of a potential ‘career’ glory play into their twenties and beyond. I would like to see us playing, reffing, coaching, administrating and supporting more ACTUAL rugby away from the TV.

    • Barry

      Nick you are right, it is not always fair in sport nor in life for that matter. Some have an easier road in than others!

      Feel consoled in the fact that not ever kid with potential in the UK goes to Millhouse – they also have poor areas and their share of the disadvantaged.

      It thus remains incumbent on rugby nations to offer clinics and other pathways to ensure that as many kids as possible get a chance to develop their talent.

      These processes are in place in most first world nations, not only from a human rights perspective, but equally to ensure that the nation gets the best possible talent coming through. Now in South Africa, our government does precious little to develop, and then invokes a quota system to cover there own inadequacies!

      I think we are on the same page in terms of giving fair opportunity, its just in the implementations that we differ!

      • Herman

        I must be getting soft Barry, I totally agree again. This used to be one of my favourite subjects apart from the Lions, lol but the total buy in to this patently racist system by the rugby ‘brains trust’ and Rassie in particular proved to be a waste of time. The WC squad and the outcome will once and for all bring this matter to a head imo. A bit of old fashioned demonstrations by the ‘whities’ at WC matches may draw the attention of the world to our predicament in fact. Racist selections, land expropriation without comp etc, hell we are back in the ‘good’ old days and the government has learned nothing from the past. What’s new.. Cheers.

        • John Comyn

          Herman what is going on with Jantjies and this breach of protocol? I believe he gave the captain the middle finger when told to kick for goal. This after gifting the Sharks the game. His suspension is not good for the Stormers. He’s always good for points on the board.

        • Barry

          This agreeing thing, is a concerning development.

          Good luck for Saturday to you & John. A draw would be much appreciated! Lol

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