I’ve said it for a long time:
South Africa is going to become like Brazil is to football or soccer; an exporter of rugby players.
That’s if we don’t start looking after our players.
The Rand is never going to be strong enough against the pound, it’s no secret that our unions are not making enough money and I’m not convinced that selling the unions off to private companies would actually help. If their business is making a loss would they continue to throw in money?
I don’t have the answers to all of these questions but what I do know, is that the players need to be looked after better if we are to get back to where we want South African rugby to be.
Any decisions made by unions or investors need to be for the good of rugby and for the players to sustain a long career that helps them build up contacts and plan for the future as well.
The attendances are low because the game is being diluted. When I played Super 12 Rugby, the stadiums were packed because everybody played everybody and if you weren’t where you needed to be both physically and mentally, you were going to get a hiding to none.
I wouldn’t take a team out from New Zealand as that will make their franchises ever stronger but Australia and South Africa don’t need more than three franchises. Allow three teams to become stronger and get Super Rugby back to what it was in terms of competitiveness.
Give some power back to the Currie Cup, where you can build up players like they do in Europe. The Heineken Cup and the Premiership are played at the same time so why not the Currie Cup and Super Rugby?
You play well in the English Premiership and you get rewarded with Heineken Cup matches.
There is then an ability to rest players in between but also give them experience next to senior players. Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit don’t play Currie Cup now because of the timing so where do young players get there help on the field from players that have been there and done it?
You can then play Du Toit with someone like Salmaan Moerat in the Currie Cup and they all start learning off each other.
At the moment, we are throwing players in and just saying “Good Luck Buddy, sink or swim”. It’s the system that is ruining these players.
The standard at school level and Varsity Cup is of the highest order so there are obviously flaws in the overall system.
That system has changed from when I was in it. You used to play for the open club in Stellenbosch of Maties whilst at college. There was no Varsity Cup then but you had U21 and U23 at National level whilst you were still playing a high level for your club. We were looked after and coached away from the limelight. People weren’t breaking into Super Rugby until they were 24 years of age.
I don’t know the stats from now and ten years ago but I bet the average age of players now is far less than it was then. I would even stick my neck out to say it’s around three or four years younger.
A miraculous player like Etzebeth will have still needed a senior player around him to show him the ‘shortcuts’. Players like that could do with someone like Johann Ackermann when he was 37, playing alongside him saying: “Listen, you have the talent, the skills and the physique but here are the shortcuts you need, here is the inside knowledge that you’ll need to succeed as well”.
Now you have senior players that are 24 years of age and have sixty caps at Super Rugby and Springbok level.
They barely know anything about life let alone advising young rugby players.
That is why someone like Schalk Brits is still being offered contracts, because he has made mistakes and is now advising the next generation. He never learns from them himself but good knowledge all the same!!!
Alistair Coetzee gave me that role with Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe when I came to the Stormers. They are both fantastic players but because they have 30 caps at 28 years of age whereas I would have only had a handful by this time.
They’re senior players in terms of the number of caps they have but certainly not by their age.
The player drain is what scares the most though.
If I can use the analogy of a social class model, the middle-class rugby player has now left South Africa. You are left with the top end players and the youngsters.
Those middle-class rugby players are great players but just missing a few skills to make the Boks. The youngsters aspired to be them as their first step in senior rugby and try to surpass them whilst learning off them. They trained hard and those sessions hardened you up as a player.
The school structure doesn’t help either and we unfortunately must accept that it will never change.
In the U.K. you attend your local school, then join your local club so you are not moving around like we do here. In South Africa, at 18 years of age, you have players moving cities all the time and you either lose that guy in the system or it makes him. Either way it’s a gamble.
The top players are only coming from the top rugby schools so when you narrow that down, you only have around 10 schools that are getting the necessary skills training which means only 150 starting players are benefitting from the bex=st coaches around.
The lesser schools are not getting that sort of coaching.
In New Zealand there is less of a divide between level of schools meaning they are getting the necessary training and when they all come together nationally, they succeed.
There is a gap and a flaw during and after School boy rugby in South Africa when you look at it as a whole, rather than just looking at individual schools like Paul Roos or Boys High in Paarl.
I read that one of the New Zealand schools head coaches said they needed to go back after the World Schools Festival last year and start playing a South African style of school boy rugby? Personally, winning back to back world cups suggests that the overall Kiwi system is working so I wouldn’t change a bloody thing.
Their environment all the way through up to the All Blacks will be familiar to the players where as here, you take an 18-year-old Afrikaans kid from Paarl and drop him in English speaking Durban to ply his trade and that is a scary prospect. I did it, albeit a bit older, but I was lucky to be surrounded by good guys who helped me along the way.
I think SARU should look at investing in the smaller schools and create a system where individual players don’t slip through the net. Belville and Milnerton are perfect examples. Milnerton produced three players of colour at Craven Week last year If I remember correctly. They’re doing something right there with limited resources so pay for a head coach and make the whole league stronger so we’re not just talking about the usual top schools and the competitive matches are a lot more frequent.
The same could be said for coaches. Invest in Varsity Cup coaches so that they can also move up the ranks into Vodacom Cup and further after that.
Put simply, SARU should spend their money on development not of a person but of a system.
Help the players get to Varsity and continue their journey of competitive rugby there rather than academy matches that mean nothing.
The decisions need to be made for the betterment of rugby. Not a school, player or club but for rugby in South Africa to be better so that the Springboks succeed.
Playing for the Springboks doesn’t feel like the aspiration for young players now;
Getting a professional contract is the aspiration and if that is the mentality then the Springboks won’t become consistently as good as they can be or as they have been in the past.