SA rugby needs a “Draft Day”

Ditch the academies says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column this week, put the money into club structures, force youngsters to play a year of amateur rugby, and implement a draft day.

Tank Lanning

So there I was enjoying Kevin Costner balance a gazillion balls on his biggest day as the CEO of an American Football franchise thinking that Jurie Roux’s job might actually be tougher than Allister Coetzee’s, when BAM, it hit me!

Should South African rugby not have some sort of “Draft Day”?

The movie sees Costner deciding what to do when his team acquires the number one draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft – a massive annual event which sees the NFL teams select eligible college football players by means of a draft. The order of which is in reverse order the previous year’s log table, allowing the last placed team to potentially staff up in order to be more competitive.

Should they make the correct pick or not trade it of course!

The situation is hardly comparable with our structures in South Africa given the amount of NFL franchises, and perhaps more importantly, colleges, but …

What about ditching every provincial academy and institute, instead putting the money into the running of university and open clubs – which remain completely amateur – and insisting that any schoolboy player who would like to try and play rugby professionally spend at least a year playing for either a university or open club?

Yes, it’s extreme, but might it not provide a few solutions to problems we face?

The perennial question asked is what happens to the undoubtedly talented schoolboy rugby players that we produce? One of the answers is that if you are not already in the “System” then it’s bloody hard to get noticed.

And that system includes the provincial academies and institutes who continue to develop schoolboys that have been identified from as early as the provincial U13 weeks. That they do great work is beyond doubt – just look at the EP players selected for the Baby Boks who have come through their academy.

But it does have a flaw – what happens to the late developers?

We also have issues with provincial recruiting at schoolboy level, which is just plain wrong. In fact there is a whole lot wrong with how “Professional” school rugby has become. Forcing guys to play a year of amateur rugby at either a university or open club before they can become professional would go a long way to thwarting that.

A year spent playing amateur rugby with a few older hands might also provide some grounding seemingly lost on a few of the “I pee Eau de Cologne” brigade of today.

Each year we then have a Draft Day that would see our 6 Super Rugby franchises drafting their picks from the base of young players, as determined by the SA conference log standings of the previous year. How fun would that be to watch?

It would also then give the franchises something to trade. So if for example, the Kings had the first pick next year, they might choose to trade that with the Bulls given that they have their eye on a young lock that they are desperate to recruit!

No U19 player could go head to head with 38 year old Frikkie who eats tractor tyres for brekki, so some sort of age group ruling would need to be implemented. You want the older guys to stay in club rugby, though, so perhaps the over 23 league play as curtain raisers and are also up for some sort of draft?

Varsity Cup has it’s own issues – which are not dissimilar to those faced in college football – but it has proved itself as a showcase of young talent. The Gold Cup looks set to carry on the great groundwork laid by the open club’s Community Cup, starting a national World Cup format tournament in September this year.

Are these not the non-elitist type entities that should form the base on which our open rugby is built?


  1. The one thing this would mess with that I do like about the academy system is that a lot of players are born and bred into their respective franchises. Having KZN dudes in the Sharks is important to me as a fan and I’m pretty sure that Eastern Province supporters must be numb from the years of their players being pillaged.

  2. The NfL draft is a lot of fun but it is also a massive commercial event. Sport is showbusiness and why not create a big spectacle where fans can get excited about the next big new thing (the draft is always a big guessing game of whether the young hotshot can make the leap to pro).

    We all love looking for the next wonder kid, and I am sure that this would be a good way for SA Rugby to make some more money.

    The main issue is that College sport is massively ingrained in US sporting culture (some people prefer college sport to the pro version because it is less commercial and more fun, think audacious 18 year olds doing risky moved that would never be allowed in a pro team). If we have a great feeder system (Varsity cup, whatever) then it provides a solid feeder for the draft.

    Lets do it

    1. Shot Pete. Commercial indeed. And rugby could do with a little new commercial injection. As school, varsity, and now club rugby gains traction (and spectators), SA is fast moving toward a scenario where the amateur game holds more allure

Comments are closed.