Age of destruction

The latest incident of overage pupils playing in school teams has done more damage to the beautiful game, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE.

For me, rugby has always been one of the best and most enjoyable team sports to play. Like any relationship it has its good and bad days, and at times it has hurt and disillusioned me, but I never stopped loving the game.

Yet, I am again at that point where I’ve again been disappointed by the game and what’s been happening in and around it. At the beginning of March, Glenwood High School confirmed it had expelled four pupils who misrepresented their age to gain admission, including two who featured for KZN at the U13 Craven Week. The Grade 8 boys were found to have falsified their identity documents. This incident followed a decision by Durban High School to sever all sporting and cultural ties with Glenwood High.

Meanwhile, Glenwood Preparatory School issued an apology in a letter to the parents  that confirmed the two pupils were enrolled at the school in Grade 6 in 2018 and fielded in the school’s sporting teams in 2018 and 2019.

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Some have told me I am overreacting and should get over this. I hear you, but in this instance I am certainly not overreacting and if you think that I am, you need to pull your head out the sand and look at the damaged caused by the latest blow to the beautiful game. Let me explain.

Rugby is fairly young with regards to professionalism and over the last, let’s just call it 25 years, we have experienced the wonderful part of professional rugby with better player salaries, better opportunities to attend live games and better viewing on national and international television. Along with the growth and amateurs turning into professionals, we have also seen the very worst of what the game can bring out of people.

Recently in primary school rugby we have seen the exposure of overage kids playing rugby against some who are four to five years their juniors. Yes, that’s correct. To put this in perspective, imagine Frans Steyn winning the World Cup in 2007 and then going back the next week to play U16 rugby at school level. It’s men against boys!

Not only did these sides claim dream team status, enjoy unbeaten seasons and win national championships, but along the way they also destroyed the dreams and hopes of other kids who loved the game unconditionally.

A lot of money was invested in the development of these kids, with school fees, boarding fees, tours, coaching and other costs. But for me the most damage was done when other kids lost out on selections or were left broken after being unfairly beaten with record scores.

Rugby can ill-afford to lose any players and supporters, and when this happens at primary school level we rip out the heart, ethos and everything the game stands for, never to be returned or recovered.

I am not for one moment pointing fingers at any school, association and individuals who have been fooled and hoodwinked along the way, as I have been a victim as well, and that’s probably why I am so angered.

We are blessed in this country with the most unbelievable junior talent and thousands of young players good enough to grow and to represent any country. Just look at the number of players abroad and South Africans representing their adopted countries. Then throw in the winning of three World Cups and you realise just how truly blessed we are.

This is certainly not a doom and gloom picture that I am trying to paint of South African rugby but we need to make sure this never happens again.

Before it’s too late, people need to take responsibility so that we can once and for all remove those who are trying to damage our beautiful game.