Earning the right to go wide

Clichéd for sure, but earning the right to go wide is a proper truism in rugby, and Tank Lanning ponders reasons as to why today’s young rugby players seem entitled to that right.

One of rugby’s clichés suggests that teams need to “Earn the right to go wide”, meaning that you cannot just send the ball to the speedy wings from the get go, hoping for them to provide the magic. One earns that right by doing the donkey work up front, sucking in the big defenders through a few pick and goes, mauls and rucks, before giving it to the speedsters out wide, who then get to operate in more space given the hard work done up front.

Clichéd sure, but it is a proper truism in rugby. Less clichéd descriptions talk to a building only being able to stand if the foundations are solid, or compound interest only starting to work for you once you have made your initial lump sum deposit. Yes you get your odd intercept try against the run of play, but in general, every try in rugby is earned.

In fact, like in life, rugby is about earning your stripes. Right from being able to cope with losing that first tag to your speedier mate in U6 Tag Rugby, to how you handle that first call up to the Bok side.

But I just wonder if today’s laaities are expecting their stripes rather than earning them?

One key “Stripe Earner” for me was going from being the R1 a try U13A superstar at Sweet Valley to being the also ran U14C fat-boy prop at Bishops. This while coming to terms with being a boarding school newboy that saw us getting up at ungodly hours to fulfil your “Rise” punishments if you failed your dormitory or changing room inspections, warming the toilet seat for the matrics, and cleaning the ashtrays in their study after church on Sunday before you could go home to cry in mommy’s arms on your only day out.

The age-old tradition of having younger boys serve students in higher grades in a form of informal apprenticeship has come in for some rough press recently, and as such is no longer. Sadly. Sure you got the odd loser who would make you warm his toilet seat or belittle you in any way possible to show off to his fellow loser mates, but it was also a fantastic way for the newboys to interact and learn from the normal matrics, prefects and 1st team rugby players.

Newboy years are a rite of passage, and in my time it included doing a few menial chores for the matrics. But instead of looking to keep what was good about the tradition, schools have chosen the path of least resistance and sent it packing. One less way to earn your stripes.

Another proper “Stripe earner” was going from being one of the school hero’s playing in an unbeaten 1st team that edged out a proper Paarl Gym side in front of close on 8000 people, to playing for the UCT U20 side against Strand in front of 3 people and the coach’s dog! Talk about a come down!

This while coming to terms with being a first year student sans anyone forcing you to attend lectures and living without parents or teachers preventing you from heading down to the Smuts Hall pub for a beer or 8 on a Wednesday night! Messy!

Hence my failing almost every subject that year, but under legendary coach Gus Enderstein, I got to relearn the core values of rugby – that it cannot be all about adoring crowds and winning, but also about the style of rugby one plays, interacting with one’s team mates, and enjoyment.

These days, schoolboy rugby is about winning, rankings and sponsors, with boys being singled out from as young as U13 to join provincial and national squads. No more the come down of club rugby at U20 level, but straight into academies and institutes. It’s no wonder a lot of them have a sense of not only expectation, but also entitlement. No more do players patiently wait their turn at a union, instead demanding contracts offering guaranteed game time. One less way to earn your stripes.

And I just wonder if we are sending the ball to the wings without earning the right to do so first?

One Comment

Comments are closed.