Recruiting outside the box

Tank Lanning

‘Twas the Monday after the completion of the league phase of Vodacom Super Rugby and the annual showcase of South Africa’s schoolboy talent, Craven Week. As good a time as any for an ex tighthead prop who fell into a barrel of Cynic’s Brew as a lightie, to stir the pot a little …

Sans any mention of overall log points, a Sunday SANZAAR press release gleefully announced the 2018 quarter finals:

Friday, July 20

Hurricanes v Chiefs – 09:35

Saturday, July 21

Crusaders v Sharks – 09:35

Waratahs v Highlanders – 12:05

Lions v Jaguares – 15:05

This of course, because if they had taken heed of the overall log points, the playoffs would have looked like this:

Crusaders v Sharks

Hurricanes v Jaguares

Chiefs v Waratahs

Lions v Highlanders

And that’s before we even get into the fact that five months of drudgery cut only 7 teams from the playoffs. Talk about rewarding mediocrity! Or the semi-final draw being pre-determined, meaning that a team ranked as low as fifth could host one semi-final, while the third-placed team may have to play away in the other.

Could they have made it any more complex or contrived? Oh well, it’s not like anyone cares any more … So I will move on.


Another day, another SANZAAR press release. Monday’s missive has them pondering the TMO, thankfully!

“A major concern for us at present is the implementation of the TMO protocols, which are clearly not working,” say SANZAAR, who are now implementing a specific review into it.

With the technology available to us, surely it as simple as having a centralised TMO body to oversee all referrals from a specific tournament? That way, at least it’s the same people overseeing all the decisions, and by having more than one person (I say remove the referee from all TMO calls), we bring in more objectivity.

One way or another though, we need simplification of the laws, and we need to judge on intent and not outcome. There is always going to be some form of subjectivity in rugby officiating, but let’s keep it to a minimum.


“Schools are basically mini academies these days,” said a prominent director of rugby to me as we took in a morning game at Craven Week last week.

And given the salaries of those at the helm, how very true! And how very scary! That said, it is a fair dinkum career choice for young men these days, so why not? A discussion for a different day, though …

So what happens between school rugby and the Baby Boks? Results wise, Chean Roux’s charges probably got a pass mark at the U20 World Champs this year, but my oath did they play some poor rugby! And why so dreadfully conditioned?

So different to my day (I remember with great fondness getting a purple SABC tie from the late Zandberg Jansen at the evening function for being the forward of the day), these days Craven Week is like a Great White feeding frenzy at Seal Island as the clubs, universities, unions and even overseas scouts pounce on the stand out players.

R1m contracts for players just out of school are not unheard of! A million bucks! Before they have even played a club game!

Surely it is time to skip worrying about the best thing since sliced bread heading to Toulon? We simply cannot compete. Let them go. That river will run dry sooner rather than later.

These “I pee eau de cologne” green horns also need a stint playing club rugby before further cotton wooling them in academies and institutes. Nothing like a game out in the sticks, in front of 3 men and a dog, on a field made up of weeds and sand rather than grass, to see what they are made of!

And this recruiting of every single young player in SA like the Bulls are doing right now is just plain dreadful for player development.

Here’s a parting thought – What about doing some actual work by putting a few skilled regional scouts in place, and recruiting from the pool of players that do not make it to the over hyped and politically burdened Craven Week?

Not only do you fish outside the “Now I have made it, it’s time to pay up” brigade, thus saving yourself a good few bucks, but through picking up players likely to be more grateful for the chance, they are more likely to be willing to put in the work needed to be a pro.

- Tank Lanning

Let's chat

  • Greg Shark

    Well Tank or should that be “Tanker” nowadays? Just gotta agree with you 1000% on the school boy rugby comments …. school boy talent, and only partly proven, tends to set them up on a pedestal even before proving themselves in the cauldron of club rugby (where men are made!). I recall serving in SADF when “talent” got sent to “specific” camps in “specific” provinces for “specific” reasons. They played for various arms of the SADF where they met average players very keen to stamp their own brand of authority in the game….. woke them up to the realities of the game!

    • John

      Hi Tank.Great article.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Yes, I remember playing SADF at Silvermine particularly well. Not only was it R1 a beer in their pub, but on one Saturday, they had Chester Williams and Tinus Linee as their centres! Perhaps we are just old farts, Greg, but surely there is still a place for the now revitalised club rugby in player development?

  • Herman Schroder?

    I totally agree with the article and comments on this site. It is a fact that fast tracking these youngsters before they have full body development and have been toughened up with two years playing club rugby that the jump to even a watered down Currie Cup competition from schools is a huge risk to the players well being. The injury toll at SR level is indicative of this where some players are injured out for sometimes more than a year in order to piece them together. More often than not it’s the ‘lighties’.

    Maybe changing the rules to make 20 or 21 years the minimum age for recruitment and with a condition that the player must have played at least two years of club or varsity rugby. That will boost club rugby as well which will benefit SA rugby in the long run. Strong club and varsity rugby was the cornerstone of our success in years gone by. These days this new breed spend more time checking out themselves on the big screen to see if their hair is in place instead of focusing on the game at hand. Back to basics folks. Cheers.

  • Fredri Gunter (Melaki)

    Good morning Tank,

    My 10 cents regarding the “over-valued” rugby player “asset” market:

    Players/Learners (from now on just learners) must not be allowed to be recruited by Unions out of school. The entire U/19 & U/21 system at Unions and it’s competitions must be abandoned. Learners that want to further rugby must go to a University/College/Club after school and play rugby there until graduated.

    If a learner cannot get into a certain University/College because of his academic history he can go to another University/College to study and play where he is allowed to study.

    Players may only be recruited by a Union when older than 21/22 OR when finished with a under-grad of any sort.

    Hopefully this will put the money (if any) where it should go – University/Clubs/Colleges for learners/student bursaries to study and further their career as well as at the same time have proper coaching/conditioning at University/Club/College level. All the U/19 & U/21 Union coaches that are worthy of being a coach can go coach at a Uni/Club/College – as it should be.

    Still have a lot to say about this, but I think you’ll get where I am going.

    R1 million for a child is unacceptable in a market where there is no money.


    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      I like where you are going with this Fredri, I am just not sure how practical it is. These laws will get flouted straight away, and might even chase players away. What about being allowed to contract them, but with payment only kicking in after a year at a club to prove themselves?

  • boyo

    I like your idea regarding recruitment outside of the craven week stars and there are many players who don’t get a look in because they are not at one of the big schools or are behind someone withing that school who is preferred for any number of non rugby related reasons(Dads head of the governing body for example).

    A great example of this is marcell coetzee who went to port natal.

    It also just makes financial sense to follow your model and I know John Smit was very vocal about recruiting fewer age group players at the sharks because the cost v reward to the union is not there.

    Look how many bulls players are consistently making the bok under 20 side but it hasnt translated to success for the senior side and the reality is many top 20 year olds never make the step up and many average 20 year olds become greats.

    So to summaries:
    1)Unions should recruit less players,
    2) When they do recruit they should recruit into academies where they can qualify in something if the rugby doesn’t pan out
    3)Allow Varsities to take the lead in recruitment through bursaries because again there is something in it if the rugby doesn’t pan out and the rest filter into the club system.
    4) take some of the saved money to try stabilise the unions which are all in deep financial trouble or filter the surplus into the club game.

    • Sean Koekemoer

      This is a proper Summary of how it should be. As a parent of 2 boys who just came from the Cravenweek (Country Districts team as they cannot afford schools like Glenwood, Kearsny etc), I know the feeling of seeing boys who went to the same primary school, split up to High school in different towns due to Financial Wellbeing, and see Kids who play Brillaint Rugby, not making it further than Country Districts.
      I believe that a lot of talent is overseen in the Country Districts teams from all across the country. Sad to know that the merit of playing Country Districts, is not acceptable for Bursaries at University, yet kids who played Cravenweek, get Bursaries and excell further. My 2 cents..

      • boyo

        Sean I am sorry to hear about your sons experiences and I am afraid it is very common across most sports in SA. Many kids parents get them into positions they don’t always warrant and once there the system seems to protect their position. This is why the club game needs to be valued by recruiters. It is not common to hear of a player making it pro from a club and its should be so usual.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Thanks for the comment Boyo. Wearing my other hat – as the Ikey forward coach – we have partnered WP to help sign up a number of players, us offering bursaries and the union offering other things – but the tricky part is finding guys who have got the required marks to make it into Varsity! And that’s where the Gold Cup could help …

      • boyo

        Hi Tank that is an ideal situation gets the players into another level of rugby between school provincial and for the majority that don’t make it as pros they have had a top education and some great years of rugby with the associated contacts etc.

        I hear you regarding the academic requirements for varsities and you are right those who don’t excel academically could and should filter into the club game and here we could also perhaps look at corporate partnerships to help these club players with internships etc( I know we have to be careful not to make the club game too professional)

      • Zulekha Kunene

        I love this talk but who are the powers that be that need to hear this. Are they listening, are they willing to change?

  • Ami

    Couldn’t agree more! Need to breed some mongrels!

  • Jan L

    I am in 100% agreement with you Tank an support the views of the those commenting on your article. For years now I have this uneasy feeling about recruitment straight from school by the big unions. My big question stays the one which asks: “what happens to the slow developer at school?”. I remember during days gone by how most of the 1st team stars played Craven Week and then after school never to be heard from again. This small center from Gym’s C team went to do his army stint, came back to play his first men’s rugby game for this small Bushmanland town in the North West Cape, we met just before the game and I could not believe his size, tall and lanky. What a relevation, Power, speed and skills to go with it, Springbok written all over him (cut short due to farming commitments). Point is, being small in school he had to build and rely on skills. Later when bigger he still had the skills. Today such a player is probably doing something else to keep him busy. We have to do something keeping track of these player of the lower teams and therefor we need a strong club rugby setup.

  • Nick

    What geniuses within the unions think it’s a lekker idea to recruit these over indulged, over entitled and overated kids by the dozen?
    I guess you get away with stupidity like that if you are given a huge budget to waste the unions money with.

    Tank. It would be interesting to see the actual success rate of Craven Week in terms of how many of these kids actually turn out at a semi or fully pro level. [By say actually counting players at the CW from around 2000] Everybody who is or who has been involved in the process knows what a sham it is and how biased it is towards the more favored schools. Fortunately the vast,vast majority of players in this country never have anything to do with it in real terms.

    I do like the idea expressed above that these players would do well to experience an actual game of rugby or two at club level against and with a few ou harde baarde. Having experienced similar to Greg Shark I can vouch for the experience.
    As Tank points out, it’s not like the type of rugby they learn at even the level of the baby boks is worth anything. I agree the standard of actual rugby was obviously terrible. Outside of one half of rugby I am confidently sure that we played the WORST rugby in terms of skill or intelligence than anybody there.
    .One big waste of money and time.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Yep, Nick, it is a little sad how Craven Week does not always reflect the class and skills seen in normal school rugby. And those who do not make Craven Week, either call it quits or look overseas

  • John Comyn

    The times they are a changing. I don’t think club rugby is the answer. I played club rugby for 10 plus years and enjoyed it immensely but drafting talented youngsters into club sides is not the answer in today’s times. Practicing on Tuesday & Thursday and playing on Saturday does not cut it. I watch a bit of club rugby only because I live a chip and a putt from the False Bay club and to be honest the quality is pretty average. The only way is provincial/national academies where they get the best coaching available. Also credit must be given to the Varsity Cup where stars are emerging. It’s sad but anything less will lead to further woe in the SA game and, in my view, we will end up playing in the 2nd tear international setup. Do we really want to watch the Boks playing Gorgia to qualify for the WC? That said their is no way they should be getting paid these huge amounts of money.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      But John, Varsity Cup IS club rugby. And gives us a good view of what club rugby in general could be should we entrust it with top class players rather than sending them to institutes …

  • John Martin

    Hooker signed into England academy played at AW in Paarl and totally ignored by his union as he is from a non traditional rugby school as CW coach said outright private school boys will never be picked by him yet from the same school a boy who played CW last year off the bench and SA u 20 this year proved his value.
    Yes Doc Craven week has become a farce in many ways. Well done to Probince…best team.

  • Zulekha Kunene

    Tank I’m going to suggest something extreme.

    Why don’t we take something from the different setups we find that work in other countries and sporting codes.

    The American draft system

    It primarily looks to College sports to recruit the top talent. If you are hot in High School you get picked up by a College. Then when you’re hot in College you stand a great chance at getting drafted into a pro team. Let’s actually go like for like, let’s focus on American football.
    You never get players straight from High School going to the NFL. They all go to college first, play 2 or 3 years then at age 20-21 some players have been developed so well that they become the star players in the rookie season in the NFL.
    Imagine the bulk of craven week players going straight to varsity and going to compete in the Varsity Cup and Shield. None of them get contracted to a union but instead are contracted to Universities and essentially developed there. With that the varsity game goes to the next level and becomes as big as College sports in the States where they can fill up 100 000 seater stadiums on their own.
    Then once the player are ripe they get drafted either to the worst team let’s say in the Currie Cup so that they can bolster their squad. This insures that every team has quality players from the bottom to the top. The player then also gets game time and valuable experience which he would other wise not get at the Bulls because there are 5-10 people as good as him fighting for the same position.

    Let’s say he plays for the Griquas in the Currie Cup. He then gets chosen by the cheetahs to go and play Pro 14. He therefore is getting game time and let’s say he also gets paid the same he would get paid at the bulls. How would the Griquas afford him? Saru will fit the bill. But Saru is already in financial strain, sure but the Saru will save money because they won’t be contracting 18 year olds for 1 million. It will be the varsities who pay the players for three years or so and so Saru and the Unions will save more. Why would the Varsity want to take on the ‘burden’. How will they benefit? The unions will allow them to get the best players, therefore attracting more viewers. Which means more attendance to games and bigger tv right deals.

    Then the Currie Cup gets stronger which means the Super Rugby squads get stronger, which means we have at least two teams in the Semis. By the time the boys are ready for the Pro jump they are well refined

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Great minds think alike …. Fools never differ :)

      • Zulekha Kunene

        Hahahahaha thank goodness I’m not alone Tank. I loved the article. It can definitely work, we need an answer to the drain we’re having on our talent. We need something innovative and incorporating the Club rugby as well could make really swell.

  • Nick

    Are we allowed to talk about amateur rugby here? Grassroots rugga if you like. The bedrock of our rugby I’m sure we all agree. Do young players still get on the pitch just to enjoy a game? Do club players play for the enjoyment of playing in a team and the odd beer afterwards? The things that make rugby what it is are not even discussed. All I read is how we can be more professional and corporate. Relevant to the stuff we watch on tv I know. But the whole gravy train of pro sport is supported by those who go to games and pay the TV extras. Not everybody will go on to be pro. Only a tiny fraction. The goose that lays the golden eggs is starving to death. Reading about the work ex boks like rob louw are doing in deprived areas to establish and encourage the game gives me hope.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Great point Nick! Bedrock indeed. And it’s the fundamental reason I recommend club rugby (via the 1st XV) as the tier just below pro rugby – instead of institutes and academies. Because that “Bedrock” of players – love the term – can then come along and play their U20 C or 3rd Xv game, and stick around afterwards to see these guys in action with a beer or Fanta in hand. They then go to work on Monday and say, “Jirre tjomma, you should have seen Willemse’s try against Tygerberg on Saturday. It was uitstekend!!” …. And then next Saturday, tjomma is down at the club watching, having signed his cousin up to play for that club during the week ….

      • Zulekha Kunene

        And that’s exactly what you get in New Zealand, Ione coming back from the HSBC sevens to play in a final for his club. It certainly gets the people flocking to club rugby.

  • Nick

    Tank, absolutely.Natural pathways .
    People need to get away from the TV for a bit and experience the game either as a player, spectator, coach, ref, orange peeler, barman watokal.

  • Chunky

    Hi Tank you hit the nail on the head! I remember playing for the Bay u20’s back in the day, FC Smit had a few appearances for the 1st XV back then while recovering from injury. But for me the draw card was when the Bay signed Laurent Cabannes (the French Intl). As a lighty that was massive to be rubbing shoulders with these guys.
    Absolutely awesome. Its a real shame that these players don’t (can’t) turn out for their clubs anymore.Imagine what our younger players could learn by playing alongside players like those

  • Zulekha Kunene

    The only thing about club that would have to change is the frequency of practice and improved conditioning. How do we justify a player leaving the facilities of an academy or institute that has all the bells and whistles for a rugby club that trains 3 times a week for a combined 6 hours. Compared to let’s say 8 hours a day to 4 times a week. That would be 32 hours vs 6 hours a week. Would that not be rather detrimental to elite players?

  • Steve Munckton

    This year CW was not really that great. not the kind of talent you would expect to see from what is supposed to be the cream of the crop in school rugby. I think that too many players are chosen for all the wrong reasons, Coaches choices, favoritism, parents that are on some sort of committee or make considerable financial and / or marketing contributions to the school, and my all time favorite, the kids parent was a Springbok, and that does not mean that the apple will not fall far from the tree. I agree with many of the posts here, CW should not be the right to passage to the Pro ranks. Club Rugby or an Academy should be the entry for the Pro ranks, after all in other countries they don’t have provincial rugby and the clubs draw much larger crowds. I know that in the north (Gauteng) they have junior club rugby I think from U8 to U18. in Pretoria they have clubs like TUKS, Harlequins, Dragons, Grizzlies but to mention a few. All junior players from U13 to U18 once they have been registered players for 2 years are then eligible to register for the IPT (Inter Provincial Tournament) trials. Upon their success they then go on to represent their province. I believe that it is represented by the Blue Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Falke and others. maybe this is how CW should be structured. There are boys at school that are much better than many of the current CW players but will never be given the chance. these youngsters are so fixated on the pay cheque that they don’t realise the enormous commitment it takes to be a pro player.

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