I read somewhere recently about schools’ rugby is getting more spectator’s than some Super Rugby games. One just has to think about the famous Paarl Boys’ versus Paarl Gim game in August where they attract close to 30 000 spectators. Local southern suburbs derbies in the Cape attract between 5ooo and 8ooo spectators! Then there are the other big schools’ derbies all over South Africa which attract massive crowds. Games are being streamed live via Youtube thanks to SchoolSports Live and now Digitv. Along with this comes the Super Sport coverage of games too. Who can blame spectators? Entertaining rugby, passionate crowds and boys playing an attractive style of rugby.
What will this do for the schools? I can only imagine that from a sponsorship and marketing standpoint, it will mean more money for the schools in sponsorship agreements surely? This is good for schools one would think? I think this will mean more scholarships on offer, coaching employment opportunities and better equipment for schools. But this adds a new dimension to schoolboy rugby. Are schools losing focus one why boys are at school? But how does one not get left behind if you do not embrace this new found wealth coming the way of top rugby schools. It certainly has created opportunities for good or potential players to get scholarships to attend the better schools and gather exposure onto the rugby scene. More and more rugby blogs are appearing, offering opinions, coaching and ranking systems (which all vary in their formulas). These websites are designed to have an online presence to make money surely? There are some very useful websites out their like www.stoopstats.co.za, www.rugby365.com, www.ruggas.co.za, www.schoolboyrugby.co.za and others. I must say, people can get very worked up over a schools’ rugby game and fall hook line and sinker into being baited into a very entertaining amount of comments. All whilst earning the hosting author “pay per clicks”.
If one looks back at an article written three years ago about two top boys’ schools not wanting to play each other due to aggressive poaching and recruitment strategies, schools are now having to be careful about poaching from feeder schools and definitely from taking boys from halfway through their high school careers. Now when you really dig deep, you find the mother unions are the ones funding some of these boys through their remaining school years with a promise of playing for their Union teams. A lot has happened in three years and schools are scrambling around already at U12 festivals now looking for players, employing recruitment officers to do this job. This has all been made possible by sponsorship money, Old Boys’ donations and parents wanting their sons’ team to be the best. Headmaster’s have been caught in the middle of all of this and this has added another dimension to their leadership of a school. Parents now approach schools with rugby CVs knowing they have an human asset worth a financial gain at their disposal. I apologise if that sounds crued, but that really happens. Parents now negotiate scholarships between the various schools seeing who will offer the best package. Coaches, who traditionally are the teachers at the school, are also now changing. More outside coaches are being employed by schools, along with conditioning coaches, physio’s, video analysts and mental coaches. Schools are trying to keep the teachers as coaches, but pressure from sponsors and parents for results adds more pressure to Headmaster’s mounting workload.
What is the solution? I can see a few options playing out here:
We move to a system like the USA where recruitment becomes a massive business and the child the commodity. Not that we will have drafts per say, but definitely junior schools will have recruitment officers at their rugby matches and approaching parents with their offerings. This happens already, but I think will become more prevalent. The better known rugby schools will play themselves into their own National league as competition for good games become scarce in their province. They will play less games, but travel more in South Africa. One does have to wonder about the academic priority here, just in case we lost focus on why our boys attend school? But these boys are seeing rugby as a profession.
I enjoyed a talk by Gary Kirsten on the amount of players that make a sport a money earning career, as he does a great demonstration by asking the audience to participate in a quick survey of how many in the audience made money from sport. If you hear he is talking near you, do yourself a favour and attend this talk for some perspective.
Already schools were approached a few years ago to enter in a Monday Night League similar to Varsity Cup. This would mean that about 20 schools would not see their 1stXV squad play on a Saturday morning or afternoon as they were preparing to travel all over South Africa to play in this league. Not sure how much support Headmaster’s gave this venture, but it did not get off the ground and I personally hope it doesn’t as it will seriously harms schools’ rugby. Can you imagine the “rockstar” status these boys would now have around the passage ways of their school?
Another scenario would be that Schools’ Governing Bodies, along with the Heads of the schools, decide that we will do our best with some recruitment, with funds that are available for scholarships to attempt to get the person who wants a more balanced education and offering. These schools won’t be able to compete with the schools who may be in the bracket played out above, but will be competitve against schools in a similar position. When they do play the schools portrayed above, scores will be completely one sided. The reason for this is that schools that will go on massive recruitment drive because they now have the funds to do so, end up with usually 2 or 3 players for one position. This means that little Jonny could be playing in the U14C side against effectively a Craven Week U13 prop or flyhalf from another Provence, but still a very good player.
The next scenario will be when schools will offer a sport as an extra mural and will play in a lower league and focus on being an all round school encouraging boys or girls to take part in as much as they can, remembering that education is the most important.
So where does that leave many schools now? Headmaster’s of traditional boys’ schools and the top rugby playing co-ed schools will need to consider the implications of not joining the race to be one the best rugby playing schools. As this is certainly a marketing tool to attract players. I am sure these discussions around the Saturday braai have being going on for years and will for many more.
I am looking forward to the 2018 season and spending my Saturday mornings roaming the rugby field watching entertaining schoolboy rugby. No matter what team is playing, let the boys play, the referee ref and the coaches coach. Just enjoy!
Barry van Selm
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