The English have a few lessons to teach South Africa in terms of creating post-school player pathways, writes BENEDICT CHANAKIRA.
England have used the International U19 Series, played in South Africa since 2010, to prepare their players for the World Rugby U20 Championship and higher honours.
This year, the Junior Boks lost to England in the semi-finals of the U20 Championship. South Africa had five graduates from last year’s SA Schools side, compared to England’s nine. And the (understrength) England senior side that toured Argentina in June, included U20 players Joe Cokanasiga, Tom Curry, Ben Curry, Nick Isiekwe and Jack Maunder.
In South Africa, SA Schools selection rewards exceptional Craven Week performances from players, while England use the series to develop young talent, on and off the field, in a different environment.
England have created a superb player pathway, which has seen an impressive number of U20 graduates step up into the senior squad. Those young roses continue to bloom, with England having contested eight of the last 10 U20 Championship finals (winning three of the last five). While England U19 may have lost most of their games against SA Schools in recent years, they have won the war at higher levels in terms of player progression.
South Africa is a nation with proud school rivalries, some of the world’s best rugby schools and an abundance of talent. Yet SA Schools lost to France, Wales and England at home this month, which is a disaster. Many will wonder if the SA Schools side was the best available, but that is a debate for another day.
SA Rugby needs to decide how we will get back to the top. Do we have a sustainable development plan that will allow for the majority of talent in the country to thrive at the highest level one day?
The over-reliance on top schools to develop talent will always be a problem, especially with the push for transformation. This will leave a broken system, as transformation is meant to be more than having players of colour on the field. It is about introducing, developing and fostering a love for rugby that will see many pick up the sport from a young age.
The Grey College U15D team’s 221-0 win against Glenwood highlighted the fact that schools rugby in most parts of our country is all about winning. This one-sided affair did more harm than good to those 14-year-olds from KwaZulu-Natal.
South Africa can learn from England’s ‘Cards’ approach, which aims to allow young players to be creative, aware, show resilience, and have good decision-making and self-organisation – on and off the field. The game is about fun and enjoyment. If that is taken away, you lose one of your biggest attractions to rugby.
Most South African schools want to win at all costs, and kids want to move to those schools because of it.
A strong foundation builds a strong building and allows for healthier competition in the future. Unless the foundation of our game is fixed, rugby will soon be dead, and the Springboks will be vying for a World Cup spot along with the likes of Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
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