SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has encouraged schoolboy players, especially matrics, to not lose sight of their ambitions following the cancellation of the youth rugby season.
In his column in issue 43 of Springbok magazine, Erasmus writes the cancellation of the youth rugby season in South Africa does not necessarily indicate the end of age-grade players’ hopes to play professionally.
‘I am writing this column with our younger rugby players in mind, those still at school and especially the matrics, whose rugby seasons were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.’
‘By now, we’re all used to how the worldwide pandemic has changed “normal things” as we know it, virtually bringing the world to a standstill, but thankfully there is now a gradual return to normality, not only around the globe but also here at home in South Africa.
‘It is the dream of every schoolboy rugby player to play for his school’s first team, then represent his province at the SA Rugby Youth Weeks, where the best youngsters are identified for SA Rugby’s Elite Player Development pathway – culminating in playing for the SA Schools team and then hopefully progressing to the Junior Springboks.
‘The World Rugby U20 Championship that was due to be played in Italy in June was cancelled, and unfortunately it meant that players who were earmarked for Junior Springbok selection this year, will not have the opportunity to do so.
‘Unfortunately, our Youth Weeks were also cancelled and while everyone is doing their bit to help combat the pandemic, I know that not being able to represent their provinces and possibly the SA Schools side are heavy blows to many of our young and aspiring schoolboy players.
‘For many, this opportunity comes around only once in a lifetime.
‘However, not playing Craven Week rugby does not mean that you’ve reached the end of the road of your rugby ambition. In fact, your rugby journey might just have started as there are still club and varsity rugby, junior provincial rugby and professional rugby to look forward too.
‘Perhaps now is an appropriate time to point out that many provincial, Vodacom Super Rugby, PRO14, Springbok and Blitzbok stars, who have gone on to play the game with distinction at first-class level, never tasted Craven Week rugby, or represented South Africa at junior age group level.
‘Bryan Habana, Francois Louw, Kobus Wiese, Gio Aplon and Francois Hougaard are just a few examples of players who represented South Africa without ever playing at the U18 Craven Week.
‘Pieter-Steph du Toit, the World Rugby Player of the Year last year, never played SA Schools. Neither did his Springbok loose forward partner Duane Vermeulen, Player of the Match in the Rugby World Cup final, Beast Mtawarira, or backline stars Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, to name just a few.
‘And now, Mtawarira, Louw, Wiese, Du Toit, Vermeulen, Habana, Am, Mapimpi and Kolbe are all Springbok Rugby World Cup winners!
‘They may have missed out when they were younger, but all of them have one big thing in common, and that is that they used their opportunities when these arose – for some it happens earlier than for others, but if you keep on working hard, you will put yourself in the best possible position to achieve your dreams.
‘I also missed out on playing SA Schools, and although it was a different time, it wasn’t easy to accept but I got on with it and decided to still make the best of my opportunities.
‘Next year holds as much promise as 2020 before the disruption, and I am sure you will be extra motivated to get back to playing the game you love so much when the opportunity arises.
‘The SA Rugby staff managing the EPD programme are doing great work to identify our most promising young schoolboy players and enlist them into our player pathway – they will, alongside the SA Rugby Academy and Junior Boks coaching staff continue to do so.
‘So, my advice would be to study hard at your schoolwork and give it your best, keep fit and healthy and please stay safe! Keep your dreams alive – I am, like you, looking forward to seeing us return to the playing field very soon.’
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