Time to ditch the excess baggage

Amateur representative teams are an example of the dead weight we are carrying in SA rugby … It’s time to make some tough calls and get truly professional says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column.

Do you know that EP Rural beat Border Rural 20–8, or that an EP Invitational side beat an EP Urban 22–26 yesterday? No? Thought not …

I know this because SARU deemed it important enough to send out a press release telling the media that the SWD and WP amateur sides had won through to the final of the Southern Amateur Provincial Championship in Humansdorp by beating the likes of these mighty warriors.

A WP side that would come 4th in the pecking order after the Stormers, Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup sides, and probably 5th after the Community Cup and Varsity Cup given the opinion of the players and coaches I have spoken to.

Yet the WPRU were happy to enforce their constitution and ban players from playing in the last 2 rounds of the local club league because they could not get away from their studies or work to make it to Humansdorp for this humdinger of a week. In effect, punishing amateur rugby players because they chose their studies or careers ahead of a 5th choice provincial side that should be nestling with the Dodo!

What the hell are we doing?

We are living in the past, that’s what we are doing. In 1994, the year before the game went provincial, players were getting around R 2000 per game in a brown envelope nestled in their match day jersey. I know this because I was one of them. Yet unions were getting similar gate, sponsorship and TV money to what they are getting today (relatively speaking of course).

Massive income with no player costs. Unions were absolutely rolling in cash! Hence the massive stadia and extravagant spending by administrators. Glory days that perhaps laid the tracks for the Gravy train?

These days a single player could cost a union 10 times more than every single player cost in those days. Yet still we manage the game in a similar way …

A few years ago Ireland made the call to ditch Sevens so they could focus all their attention on the Fifteen a side game. Not a universally popular decision, but one that had to be made in a small country with limited player and financial resources.

Yet here we are hosting amateur representative teams at amateur tournaments. Sending a woman’s team to come 10th at the World Cup, and a woman’s 7’s team to no doubt perform similarly poorly at that World Cup. And here we are putting together a second tier Currie Cup tournament that 28 people care about. All costing vast amounts of money.

Yet, despite this, both the Boks and the Blitzbokke are ranked second in the world in their respective codes. Imagine how good we could be if we ditched the excess baggage?

What purpose do the likes of Border, Valke, SWD, Leopards, Boland and the Griffons serve? Apart from costing SARU more time and money given the need for curatorship and investigations into corruption. They are just a drain on limited resources.

Changing this, though, requires the turkeys that are the smaller unions to vote for the Christmas lunch that is the money from SARU and these tournaments. We simply have to find a way to change a constitution that still speaks to an amateur era.

In closing, I am not saying we should ditch amateur rugby. Far from that, in fact. And amateur rugby will still need to be funded in part by the professional arm, but let’s separate the two, and do it via the clubs.


  1. Agreed.

    Money that could be used to create a proper womans provincial tournament if SARU wants to continue sending a team to tournaments.

    Money that can be used to reinvigorate club rugby per union. To develop the “BLACK” players that government wants to see in Green and Gold.

    Money that can used to create players in smaller schools that dont have the funds.

    But alas your calls will fall on deaf ears as these kind or tournaments are only to appease smaller unions and government.

    1. I am told by those in the know, and those in fairly serious seats of power, that these ears may be getting hearing aids soon 🙂

  2. Most unions including WP are run as a dictatorship.I believe that one needs to rid the game of the super egos and politicians and get rugby men involved.Statements are made all the time and there is so much forked tongue that goes on.I have had the previlege of seeing the wheels in motion and the style,motivation for certain decisions and communication leaves much to be desired in my opinion.Frans Steyn didn’t get banned from playing for the Sharks when he left the Bok training camp but yet a oke who plays club rugby is.Makes sense doesn’t it.

    1. Not really comparing apples with apples re Steyn given that it was contractual and Sharks did not play on the same day, but I do LOVE that analogy 🙂 Rugby needs to be run like the professional business that it is, with there being an obligation for that arm to finance a well run amateur arm that is club rugby and not relic type amateur rep teams.

  3. While I agree with much of what you say, Tank, I do believe a lot of our rugby talent comes from places like the Eastern Cape, SWD, Boland and North-West, so we need to make sure there are structures in those areas.
    But there’s a big problem coming with the demise of club rugby – too much emphasis on schools rugby & low-grade professionalism is squeezing it from both sides.

    1. Shot Ken. With union scouts recruiting from the U13, U16 and Craven Weeks, sadly club rugby is not even seen as fertile ground any more. And part of the reason for that is that there is just too much going on. But if you miss that tranche of recruitment, there does need to be another net. But surely if you are serious about rugby and believe you have a future, you could move to PE where EP are guaranteed exposure, or Maties and Cape Town if you are Boland based?

  4. Half of what you said is true. Why bother with amateur rugby if all doors is closed on the talent available for free. 100% correct and I agree. But the talent at the northern province’s champs is undeniable. I am sure, as a novice, if I were allowed to pick a team competing in CC B division I will come very close to winning it. Secondly there was a hand full of players that is CC A level. Tank as you know forwards only mature at 25+, especially props. And here lies the problem. The unions already spend their budget and will not look at any amateur. The Lions excluded.
    It is time that the unions start looking at their Amateur clubs, the talent is there. Talent identifying is an art who only a few has mastered in RSA. To many talented boys stop playing because of this.
    Lastly moving to a Varsity city also does not help as the Varsity Cup is now a professional competition with unions playing their contracted players to prepare for the season.

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