Entertain and build skills …

As we ease our way into a new rugby season and the excitement levels build for that first “Real” game, Tank Lanning looks at the issues surrounding schoolboy rugby …

Player welfare and management, how to keep Varsity and Club rugby amateur, what to do about trying to create a global season, the selection of overseas based players for the Springboks … To name but a few.

But this current spat in Durban that might see two of the region’s biggest boys’ high schools not play first-team sport against each other due to accusations of unethical sportsmanship, puts the spotlight firmly on what I believe to be a primary problem area – schoolboy rugby.

In short, the dispute surrounds schools objecting to Glenwood fielding SA Schools prop Marne Coetzee, whom they recruited from Waterkloof High, in a first-team rugby match last year. Glenwood have been accused of breaking an agreement that major rugby-playing schools had with one another regarding fielding under-19 players who had not progressed through the school’s ranks.

An agreement obviously aimed at stopping the recruitment of schoolboy players and fielding schoolboys who do post matric only for rugby reasons. That they had to enter into this agreement is proof itself of the problem facing schoolboy rugby.

Classic Clashes on SuperSport, school rankings every Monday, schoolboy jerseys carrying not just one main sponsor, but a few minor ones as well, coaches abusing referees after games, agents taking on schoolboy players and negotiating bursaries at top schools, 15 000 plus crowds at big games, parents and coaches encouraging steroid use … Schoolboy rugby borders on being professional!

Hence SARU’s recent regulation stating that unions may only contract players over the age of 18, and that the recruiting of players at Craven Week is now forbidden. Also incoming is the testing of schoolboy rugby players for performance enhancing drugs.


As I have said before … It’s no wonder that a few of them come out of school thinking that rugby owes them a favour. And having coached at U20 level, I have seen a few of these prima donnas come properly unstuck when having to take on the local club side on a cabbage patch of a field at 12h30 in front of just their parents and a single flea infested dog.

But more importantly, by giving schoolboy rugby so much of the spotlight, focusing on results in leagues, and making the weekly rankings such a big thing, I believe we are teaching these guys to play “winning” rugby rather than focusing on skills and encouraging them to have a go from anywhere on the field.

John Plumtree, a coach who has worked with some of New Zealand’s and South Africa’s best players, had this to say about the difference between South Africa and New Zealand in a recent article by Mark Keohane:

‘If there was a difference I’d say there’s more pressure in South Africa at schoolboy level to win because of the rivalry between the major rugby playing schools, whereas in New Zealand there is a greater focus at schoolboy level on playing good rugby. The pressure here would be to win at all costs; there the pressure would be in the skills evolution of a player at schools level.

And he is absolutely spot on!

Talent we have in spades, but many SA coaches are bemoaning the lack of skill in our players – simple things like being able to pass to the right, get one’s arms through the tackle to off-load, side step and set up a switch … And I believe this is because schoolboys are now playing the box kick and chase, take the points via a sharp shooter kind of game.

But schoolboy rugby should be about enjoying the game and scoring brave 85m tries using daring skills in a festival type environment. And in the process producing highly skilled players who can then choose whether or not to have a go at the professional game.

Pro coaches will then have more rounded players at their disposal, and might be more inclined to play a more exiting brand of rugby. But perhaps more importantly, those players heading to the more relaxed club environment, won’t have such massive expectations, and will continue to play the game.

Look, one can’t blame the schoolboys themselves. Everyone likes a little attention. So this is going to have to come from the governing bodies, provinces and schools themselves.

How about banning rankings, disallowing branding on schoolboy kit, banning the drop kick, making tries worth 6 points, and making penalties and conversions worth 1 point, and selecting teams for the televised games based on the amount of tries they score and style of play?

This article was first published on www.keo.co.za


  1. Spot on Tank. The schools and regional governing bodies need to take a very serious look at themselves and decide whether the short to medium term cash injections from sponsors etc, is really in the best interest of the school boys and rugby as a whole over the long term.
    I think it’s detrimental to the development of skills as well as the development of the school boys as individuals. Way too much emphasis on win at all costs. What happened to the time of playing multiple sports, although only excelling at one or two.
    My senior school days were from 1975 to 1979 and largely due to the size of the school, I played anything and everything. We only had 450 kids from SubA to Matric, so it was a case of participating in lots of different sports that required different skill sets. I believe that encourage the kids to develop skills that are lacking today. And I agree with you, there is no lack of talent, far from it, but there is definitely a lack of all round skills and playing the game for the joy of it.

  2. Can’t agree more Tank. During my holiday at Hartenbos I chatted to one of my neighbors. He coaches the u/14 side at a high school in North West. Listening to him I had to conclude that what happens at this level is almost a replica of Super 15. Conditioning programmes, biokeneticist available, video analyses after games and so the list goes on. I was astounded..completely. IN this case however their is a strong link to academic performance…if the boy isn’t performing scholastically it is reported to the coach who takes it up with the player concerned. Apparently in 90% of the cases there is a marked improvement thereafter. This is positive.
    If it gets to winning at all costs – and by the sound it at that point – everyone involved is going to lose.

  3. Your thoughts on banning rankings rings true. In fact, the headmasters of the biggest rugby schools met in 2006 to do just that.

    SuperSport took heed and stopped producing schoolboy rankings. Others however, have not.

  4. Excellent stuff, could not agree more. So many of the so called “top” schools are missing the point of including sport, rugby in particular, as an extra mural activity. There’s to much emphasis on winning as apposed to playing the game. It’s quite frightening to see how coaches, parents and players behave at school games. You need to get this message out there Tank..

  5. Good day Sir. Seen as there is no other appropriate editorial on your blog, for me to address this subject, I therefore apologise for this in advance.

    Tank, I have been a keen follower of your blog since finding you on the internet a few months back. I have come to respect your insight, and most of all, your willingness to answer all replies. This is truly commendable.

    I only have one question, why have you not addressed the Lions debacle, and why have you not once featured them, or any of the other teams for that matter, in the warm up runs towards the start of the Super Rugby season. ( Predictions etc. )

    After all, your site is all about “All things to do with S.A. Rugby – good or bad. ”

    Or is this not so?

    1. Hi Shaun. Shot for the comments – much appreciated …

      I have certainly addressed both the Kings and Lions fiasco in various columns and blog posts. Fiasco in that it is rediculous for a team to be given only one year of Super Rugby, and a fiasco in the time it took for the decision to be made.

      My focus has been on the Kings, as the team stepping into the limelight, and less on the Lions, who now step out of the limelight. The Lions have plenty internal issues to deal with and i wish them well, but the focus has to be on the sides actually playing Super rugby.

      Throw in the fact that I think South Africa can only support 4 SR teams, so who plays as the 5th team actually bothers me not a whole lot! All that puts the Lions quite far down the pecking order. Should they get back up into the limelight, so more column inches will be devoted to them.

      That said, it is still pre-season, and all this content is just fluff before the real event gets going next month. I have not made any game predictions this year, and probably won’t do so until SR starts …

      Tank Lanning

  6. Tank, have you any idea what some of these full time school directors of rugby are earning – to give you some idea, one in Natal is close to R1mill pa. Others are not to far off that.

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