Former Lions high-performance manager Bart Schoeman says he is hopeful the SA Schools Rugby Challenge will ‘add some spice’ to the schoolboy rugby calendar.
It was confirmed over the weekend that six of South Africa’s top rugby schools, including Garsfontein Hoërskool, Grey College, Paarl Boys’ High and Paul Roos, are busy working to establish a new two-tier competition which would take place from 2021.
This series, known as the SA Schools Rugby Challenge, aims to ensure that the invited schools compete annually against each other, while not affecting historical fixtures between any of the schools.
The news was met with mixed reaction, with concerns raised about how a competitive elite-schools tournament could potentially result in a growing gap between those involved and those left out, plus the potential of an increase in player poaching which has impacted the relationships between schools across the country.
Schoeman, who will act as chairman during the negotiations and guide the process in the initial three years of the tournament, moved to assure concerns about the proposal.
‘We expected a reaction from the public and schools, negative and positive, therefore were prepared for most,’ Schoeman said. ‘The main purpose of the Challenge is to ensure that the top schools compete against each other regularly. The need to play against other top schools in an organised system to grow the game and not only concentrate on the A team/1st XV was one of the reasons we started with the process.
‘To discuss the final structure of the Challenge, and anything else at this stage is premature. Discussions are planned for the rest of December and January next year with the schools and role players to ensure participation by all. We must understand that although the identified schools agreed to be part of the process, there are still differences that need to addressed over the next few months.
‘We have no intention to replace or change existing schoolboy-rugby structures which is certainly the most successful in the world. We just want to add some spice, that has been “demanded”, by the schoolboy-rugby community for quite a while.’
Schoeman added that the tournament could lead to a positive impact on schools rugby in South Africa, especially with regard to the development of coaches and players.
‘We are confident that our involvement in schoolboy rugby will result in more boys playing the game, with the development of coaches on our chosen pathway to achieve just that. Development opportunities are built into the plan by presenting coaching seminars to coaches of smaller and development schools that are not part of the series.
‘An area we will also address is the mentorship and planning of players careers. Mentorship and guidance sessions will form part of the process. Parents and players will be informed and guided with their future planning and aspirations during and after professional sport.
‘We are confident that in a few years our contribution will be seen as positive and constructive in preserving the game we all love at schoolboy level.’
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