MARIETTE ADAMS and DYLAN JACK debate whether schools rugby is taken too seriously in the wake of the Paarl Interschools last Saturday.
Adams says … Yes
In light of the thrilling 2019 Paarl derby, which Gim won 18-17 after Boishaai fullback Jacques Rousseau failed to land the match-deciding conversion in the last movement of the contest, it’s fair to say that schools rugby is alive and well.
Another point of reference to support that statement can be Pretoria Boys’ High’s stunning 38-21 upset win over arch-rivals Affies a fortnight ago. It was especially memorable for Boys’ High because it was their first derby win in 11 years.
Of course there are several other schools rugby rivalries around the country that are in the same league: Garsfontein versus Waterkloof, Grey College vs Paul Roos, Dale vs Queen’s, Bishops vs Rondebosch.
These blue-ribbon fixtures draw major media coverage and huge, huge crowds – that put Currie Cup, and indeed Vodacom Super Rugby, spectator counts to shame.
However, it is also in the buildup to, during and immediately after these types of matches that the concerns facing schools rugby are best illustrated.
The now professional approach of age-grade sport in South Africa with its pressure to succeed, leads schools to place larger emphasis on their recruitment programmes aimed at player and coaching resources. And this, in turn, leads to tensions between schools (as we’ve seen between Hilton and Glenwood, Swartland and Garsfontein and more recently Wynberg and Paarl Boys’ High).
But the back-and-forth accusations and poking about poaching are just a fraction of the problem.
Because it is regarded as the biggest schoolboys rugby match in the world, I’m going to highlight a few examples from the Paarl derby to demonstrate just why I think it is being taken far too seriously.
Yes, the boys all cherish hopes and dreams of playing professionally and know that performing well on derby day will boost those ideals significantly. But losing said game isn’t exactly the end of the world.
And yet parents, extended family members and old boys verbally abuse each other mercilessly, not to mention the tongue-lashing some feel they can give a referee. It was reported on a local radio station earlier this week that there were heated arguments in a Paarl neighbourhood-watch WhatsApp group between parents of boys attending both schools.
Another thing that has never sat kindly with me is the excessive, over-the-top celebrations of especially coaches and old boys after the final whistle and their team is on the correct end of the result. It only serves as an insult.
Has winning a mere rugby game at all costs become so important that people conveniently forget sport should be used as an educational tool and therefore they have to set an example to the kids playing it?
Schools coaches love to emphasise the fact results don’t matter and that entertainment is the prime focus. But judging by the behaviour of all the parties involved, entertainment ranks every low in high-profile matches.
Tone it down a bit and just let the boys play.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) August 3, 2019
Jack says … No
This year’s Paarl derby was something to behold. A week’s buildup to the 1st XV match with plenty of festivities, school bands, thousands of parents, old boys and students piling into Faure Street Stadium … it had it all.
As what must have been close to 20,000 spectators watched the two schools’ first teams take each other on, while significantly less than those who watched the Bulls lose to Griquas in the Currie Cup, the talking point predictably shifted as to why this was.
The fact that hundreds of spectators flooded the field following the Paarl derby, with both schools’ 1st XV players being carried off and applauded has further led to a suspicion that maybe schools rugby, especially at this level, is taken a bit too seriously.
However, it is completely understandable that rugby, especially at U19 level, is taken as seriously as it is in the larger schools across the country.
Most who play rugby up until their Grade 12 or U19 year at the likes of Paarl Boys’ High or Paarl Gim or Grey College have at least some ideal of trying to make it professionally. For these players, a poor performance in a game where all eyes are on them – as in the Paarl derby – could make or break their chances of making it at a professional level. That is not to say that these players are judged solely on their performance in one match.
For those that don’t make it into the 1st XV in Grade 12, playing in something like the Paarl derby is as good as it can get on the field. Many of these players don’t want to progress further with their rugby, but still enjoy the rivalry and put a lot of passion and effort into getting one over their opponents.
As for the spectator numbers, it simply comes down to a case of vested interest. The majority of the crowd present at Faure Street probably had some deeper connection with the schools involved, as it is with schoolboy derbies across the country. Be they parents, guardians or extended family of the boys and girls involved, it is understandable why so many are drawn to schoolboy games. That is not even counting that most large schools have strong old boys associations that manage to keep those who graduate involved in annual derbies.
This connection simply isn’t present in the Currie Cup, especially with the old provincialism gone as our franchises are rarely made up mostly of the players from the province they represent.