Okay this one is not as bad as the title might lead you to believe. It’s has nothing to do with politics or transformation. Instead it’s about an idea I thought of to deal with an imminent threat that has the undesirable ability to undermine the integrity and enjoyment of schoolboy rugby.
The danger I’m talking about the so-called “arms race” where schools try to get ahead of rivals by aggressively recruiting the best possible rugby players they can find from under-15 to open age-group. The obsession driving this is either winning at all costs or the fear of losing which is translated as failure.
You might have heard the term “arms race” being used before to describe what is happening in schoolboy rugby in parts of both New Zealand and Australia right now. In those countries it has gotten to the point where the schools are being described as ruthless, their outrageous spending sprees on acquiring rugby players (arms) are not justified and seem to know no limits. It has the feel of the devil possessing some of these schools’ leaders and actively trying to turn schoolboy rugby into a hell on earth. Saddest of all is that part of what made the game special for a century or more down in Australasia has been lost. The frustration levels of those who have become victims of this wrong is simmering. The bottom-line is that an unhealthy and undesirable situation now exists in New Zealand and Australia.
In South Africa, I don’t believe we are quite there yet but we are moving closer to the same scenario. A tipping point will come. It might come overnight and catch many unawares. The guarantee is that it will be ugly unless preventative measures are put in place fairly shortly to drastically change the mind-sets of the schools that will inevitably lead us to that doom.
My idea is a quota system that forces schools to make use of a minimum of 12 boys that have been at the school since Grade 8.
The idea stems from two sources.
1. Defining the objective
Very recently we’ve witnessed the manipulation of the Varsity Cup. An attempt was made to turn a competition designed for student rugby into a professional game. Left untouched, 2014 probably would have seen teams attempting to improve on performances by integrating more professionals into their setups at the expense of proper students.
The organisers have thankfully stepped in to stamp out pros using competition rule amendments. Going forward their objective for Varsity Cup rugby is to make sure it is about university students who are serious about getting degrees and also play rugby. It will not be about professional rugby players that happen to register for a few courses which they may or may not attend or show any interest in passing.
The decision means that Varsity Cup rugby returns to its core. The reason for it’s existence will not be lost. The manipulators have been suppressed.
Just like the Varsity Cup, schoolboy rugby is crying out for a definition. It needs a motto that goes something along the lines of “school students wanting to maximise on their academic opportunities and playing rugby as an extramural activity.” Yes some of these kids will be brilliant rugby players on sports bursaries and scholarships but there is no place for those who see aggressive recruitment beyond Grade-8 level as the means to get results and simultaneously corrupt the system.
2. Removing the incentive
The second motivator has been the success achieved by making Craven Week an under-18 tournament from about 2007/8 onwards. Prior to that, post-matrics and under-19 players could be selected for Craven Week. It provided players with a huge incentive to stay back an extra year, as being able to play at Craven Week often opened doors after school (something that has possibly also changed a lot since then with attempts to recruit boys at younger ages being very much the norm nowadays). Under-19 participation back then kept the post-matric system healthy and also accounted for a good number of matric repeaters. Once under-19’s were banished from Craven Week, the incentive to stay in school a year longer disappeared and so did just about every school’s willingness to continue offering post-matric.
It basically goes without saying that removing the incentive changes the attitude. A school is a lot less unlikely to go shopping for rugby recruits if these recruits will never be able to represent their 1st team. Equally so players and their parents will be a lot more reluctant to move to new schools for rugby related reasons once they understand that the chances of playing 1st XV rugby at these new schools will be significantly diminished.
As I define it, a Grade-8 quota would mean a few things:
1. Schools work hard to recruit well at Grade-8 level which most of them already do.
2. Schools commit to developing the boys that have been there since Grade-8, knowing that 80% of these boys will make up their 1st team one day.
3. All boys arriving at schools after the Grade-8 (under-14 season) concludes will battle it out for 3 remaining 1st XV spots.
This idea of a Grade-8 quota is not an absolute. Like all things in life there so many exceptions to consider with some exceptions possibly needing to be factored in as exemptions from the rule.
What I believe is that a quota like this would remove much of the incentive to spend money on recruitment after Grade-8. It also has the potential to increase the integrity associated with boys moving from one school to another. It would also ensure that a few of the core values of schoolboy rugby from the past are reinstated / preserved – schools competing with their own home grown players and accepting that the spirit and pride with which boys compete far exceeds any final scores.