In his first column for SA Rugby magazine, former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE maintains schoolboy rugby is becoming far too professional in South Africa.
For us all to better and fully understand rugby in South Africa one needs to look at schoolboy rugby as it really is where it all starts and very often ends for these talented boys, unfortunately.
I will only talk about boys for now, but trust me when I say that rugby is growing at a rapid pace for the girls taking part. Another exciting topic and debate for another time.
We are truly blessed with the most talented pool of rugby-playing schoolboys in the world right here in South Africa. Just go to any schoolboy rugby game on a Saturday and don’t be surprised to see crowds of around 5 000, and sometimes even up to 20 000 in attendance.
Attending a game is one thing and more often than not it’s a great day out, but I often found myself staring at the size of these kids and realising that somewhere the game that I started playing and loved at school has changed in such a way that I hardly recognise it anymore.
My main concern and a topic I really battle to come to terms with is that I often ask myself: Do I want my sons to play rugby? I will probably get crucified for this but unless my kids have a serious growth spurt, they won’t.
I truly believe that team sport is crucial in the development of any child, as it teaches you so much more than just winning and losing and will stand you in good stead all your life, even if you don’t play another day of sports after school.
With the competitive and professional nature of particularly rugby at school level we unfortunately lose too many kids who want to play, but don’t want to make a career out of it. And, at the other end of the stick, we lose too many players at school who thought they could make a career of it.
It’s a situation any sport can ill afford and if you don’t believe me look at club rugby as it is literally bleeding to death in all rugby-playing provinces.
You will be surprised to see that many schoolboys are only allowed to play rugby – and no other sports – with all-year round pre-season training, specialised rugby fitness sessions, special hours of schooling and classes. All the while supplementing normal wholesome meals with creatine, whey proteins and who knows what else (you don’t want to open that can or worms now but we will soon) and a rugby season bursting with a fixture list matching most professional teams in South Africa.
Many schools will argue that it’s their biggest marketing tool and when the 1st XV is performing well, the school and boarding establishment are full. Whoever is doing that should not be allowed near kids, and for that matter a rugby field, as it is a part of a bigger problem where the game in our country is dying because of what’s happening at school level.
I love schoolboy rugby and if I could only have one game of rugby again in my life, it would not be for the Sharks or the Boks, but for my 1st XV at school. It really would. I unfortunately loved it more when it was played with natural skill and speed, and played only for enjoyment.
It would be my dream and rugby wish that all schoolboys should enjoy this feeling at least once while playing rugby at school. We need to bring those days back as it is the only way of securing longevity for all in rugby, players and administrators alike.
I truly hope it’s not too late already.
Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images