The hopes and dreams of 28-players to represent their country as the top schoolboy rugby players of the year, their coaching team (and schoolboy rugby enthusiasts in general) went up in a towering inferno as the Bokkies finished 0 from 3 on Saturday afternoon, losing all three their matches against under-19 teams from Wales, France and England. This was the article on the series finale http://www.youthweeks.ruggas.co.za/?p=1821 .
In the aftermath of the recent U19 International Series in the Cape, the social media members are still smouldering and most of the heat is directed at the players. The SA Schools team of 2017 has been described as arguably the worst team ever to represent South Africa at this level, a tag the players will have to wear for the rest of their careers. Ruggas.co.za has a major problem with this simplistic mindset so please allow me to explain some of the complexities before you haul these talented kids over the coals any further, for now.
As previously reported on, some questions were already raised by Ruggas.co.za when this team was selected with the general undertone that some of the better schoolboys to take on the 3 visiting teams were not selected because the forwards lacked the physical attributes required and that defence was going to be a MAJOR issue. The try-scoring records in the 2017 Coca-Cola Craven Week already raised a big red flag for all to see with the tackling skills on display dismal, to say the least. Read those articles on the selections here http://www.talk.ruggas.co.za/?p=127,http://www.talk.ruggas.co.za/?p=131 and the Craven Week Wrap by clicking on the following link http://www.youthweeks.ruggas.co.za/?p=1575The problem in our view did not start with the selections though, but it was an important contributing factor.
Some serious questions need to be answered, which have nothing to do with the players but everything to do with the structures in place controlling the game. How have we managed to fall so far behind so quickly? Ruggas.co.za reported on the CARDS system used by the England U18 team. Read the article here http://www.youthweeks.ruggas.co.za/?p=1830 .
In South Africa, we have an elite player identification and development process, but the effectiveness of the current process should be reflected on the scoreboard and as such we seem to be lagging by some distance and the problem does not lie at the doorstep of SARU alone but the provincial unions need to take a serious look at what happens overseas and then take a long hard look in the mirror.
The Golden Lions, The Sharks and the Free State were the standout teams at the 2017 Craven week by some distance, as they were in the 2015 u16 Grant Khomo (so no surprises there then), and as may be expected the makeup of the Bokkies reflected that, but what happened to historical powerhouses Western Province and the Blue Bulls?
When the Craven Week and Academy Week teams were announced schoolboy rugby enthusiasts were up in arms about the WP and Blue Bulls teams, the blogs were set alight and from every corner of the country, pundits were shaking their heads in dismay saying the Craven Week has become a farce. How could it be that Craven Week team selections could become so obviously wrong that Joe Bloggs could cry foul where experts were supposedly making the calls of which players were the best in the province? Then the youth weeks happened and the results illuminated the problem for all to see.
Let me categorically say that yes, the best team was probably not selected because to start off with the best teams were probably not present.So what should the selectors of the Bokkies do then, they selected a team, not two teams like in previous years, from the available players they saw. Perhaps the Craven week as the base for selections is another problem. Knowing what we know about other national teams perhaps the elite group should be finalised en masse long before the Craven week for example after Wildeklawer and then start working together so that we don’t have this ‘only four days preparation’ excuse not to perform as a team. We agree, four days are not enough, but other years were not better in terms of the time constraint so we need to rethink how we go about selecting and then preparing the team to beat world class international teams again like we're used to.
What about the coaching staff? Are THEY selected on merit? Are those coaches tasked with the enormity of that task to prepare the Bokkies the best available coaches in the country? Are there adequate systems in place to select, lead, develop and support the best available talent for our national junior coaches or not? The results sadly suggest not. We believe it’s time to have a serious look at team dynamics and not just at the players within the team.
Everyone is grasping at other factors like the racial quotas imposed on selectors, the fact that this is an under-19 tournament and we are fielding an under-18 team, the conditions were against us, etc. Let’s consider these as contributing factors.
If the brains trust were in touch with the current crop of players perhaps the venue should have suited the players better. Why can this tournament not be held upcountry in Johannesburg or Bloemfontein where playing conditions could be more in our favour? The conditions suited the opposition, not the Bokkies.
In reality, most of the players at the tournament were not under-19 but in fact under-18 so the excuse that they are a year older should not be valid. If we host an under-19 tournament forget about the SA Schools team all together and select an under 19 team from the unions where under 19 players are learning their craft and playing in a professional environment. The difference between schoolboys and provincial under-19 is vast. If it should be schoolboys and if it is under-19 why then not allow the under-19 schoolboys (the likes of Boishaai’s Abner van Reenen perhaps a good example) to be available for selection? Whatever the case, just level the playing fields a bit. Gone are the days where the sport is practised at this level in an amateur way. Overseas club systems are lightyears ahead of our current system.
Racial quotas were imposed on selectors. Calls are heard from all over to do away with this political interference in the interest of quality. Firstly, this is South Africa, and there will be certain targets that need to be met over which selectors do not have control but don’t fool yourself, the players at this level are very far from so-called quota players. Most, if not all, come from top rugby playing schools, enjoy the best possible education this country has to offer, and are often not only on par, but even better than their positional competitors in many cases. Many of these players will be offended if they were to be described as a so-called ‘quota’ player because they deserve selection on merit. Just select the right ‘right players’ not the wrong ‘right players’ to do the job for us.
In conclusion, did some of the players fail to perform at the expected level – yes!
Did all of the players fail to perform – hell no! (Snyman, Van Niekerk, Du Plessis, Nhlabakanye, Martins were all very good if not excellent.)
Are there many other factors beyond the control of the players that need urgent attention by the grownups involved? Clearly.
Learn the lessons and move forward, but don’t just hang a flaming torch around the necks of these talented kids. They may have made some terrible errors, they may have lost dismally, but they are still the Bokkies and our future and it’s time for the adults to be mature about things and own these results.