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Unions must nurture local talent

  • 30 Apr 2013

South African provinces must look to develop their own talent before raiding other unions, writes former Springbok hooker JOHN ALLAN.

There is no doubt in my mind that we have more than enough rugby talent in this country at schoolboy level to fill up a whole World Cup tournament of 16 teams. The question is: what do we do with this talent? The answer: we abuse it! The collective 'we' is schools coaches, club coaches, provincial coaches, rugby academies, parents, girlfriends/boyfriends, sports agents, and the biggest culprit, administrators – the people running our unions.

In Scotland they have 8,000 rugby players from which they have to select a national team that can compete with the best in Six Nations and World Cup tournaments. Because they have a limited pool to choose from, they understand the value of nurturing young players and helping them to achieve their full potential.

In South Africa we have an ocean of rugby players to choose from and we nurture them incorrectly. We are so scared that other provinces are going to produce better players that we would rather spend more time raiding these provinces and signing their players than focusing on players within our own union. In the past few years Glenwood and Maritzburg College have been the top schools teams in KZN – their professional set-ups include quality coaching, conditioning, high performance and nutrition – and the Bulls take most of their best players. Rondebosch, a top school in Cape Town, have been raided by the Sharks Academy and this year alone they have five players in KZN. No union is innocent; everyone takes players from other unions.

Why can't each union and their scouts and administrators focus on their own region? Identify the talented kids at primary school level and start with elite training (they say 10,000 hours of training virtually guarantees you international status – that is three hours every day from the age of 11 – and has nothing to do with talent). In rugby you can only really see if a player will develop into a physical specimen after the age of 16, but you should get it correct more than 50% of the time, which are good odds.

Your next step would be to focus on high school rugby. It is easier to travel around your own region than others, as you will be able to visit more school games, select the good players and bring them into your elite squad.

Lastly, for the late developers, unions must have a 'game plan' for looking for good club players. Only 10% of the players in the Springbok team that I played in played Craven Week, the rest of us came through the club system.

By using this approach to talent identification, you can see where your weaknesses are in each position and then decide to scout outside your territory. You would then have a goal and a rifle approach to finding the right player rather than a shot gun approach, which is currently being used.

If you are loyal to the players in your province, they will be loyal to you. They will give their heart and soul for coach and province but more importantly their school friends, family and admirers will support them and become season ticket holders and make your union financially healthy. You will also not have to fork out big money for players from other provinces (which includes relocation costs).

You cannot buy loyalty, you build it through respect.

Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images

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