Is the Grey/Montpellier deal OK?

Perhaps schools should be playing a more proactive role in the best possible tomorrow for our kids, says TANK LANNING, even if that future lies outside of SA.

Tank Lanning

School rugby lost the plot a while back. The national rankings are the icing on the cake, but throw in the Saturday morning TV games, sponsored tight fit jerseys, and the completely out of control contracting of players at U16 level, and what we have on our hands is the stuffing up of what used to be the country’s greatest rugby asset.

Instead of being a factory delivering bright eyed and bushy tailed highly skilled youngsters in need of some polishing before even contemplating the pro ranks, the system now delivers overly hyped young men who think they piss eau de cologne, are coached to win instead of entertain, and believe the rugby world owes them a favour.

But this little conundrum pales into insignificance when compared to what is going down in Bloemfontein!

French Top 14 club Montpellier have launched a scholarship programme at world renowned rugby school, Grey College. Basically, thinly disguised as a scholarship, Montpellier are hijacking the school that has produced the second most Springboks of all time, in order to set up their own feeder system of young, talented players.

A businessman with links to the French club, who wishes to remain anonymous, has set up the Badawi Legacy Scholarship Programme at the school, and has committed to make the following contributions over the next five years:

  • Fund the appointment of a French language teacher for a period of five years.
  • Provide funding to support at least 50 scholarship holders.
  • Secure a commitment from Montpellier Rugby Club to make available certain resources including a commitment to sharing coaching methods and a coach exchange programme.

The school says the scholarship programme will be awarded on a means-tested basis to scholars who lack similar or readily available alternatives. Scholarship holders will need to demonstrate potential in leadership and/or academia, and particularly the sport of rugby.

Note the last part of that sentence!

“As a modern society”, reads the statement from the school, “It is our duty to provide our students with an environment within which they can create the best possible tomorrow for everyone. A tomorrow in which South Africans will succeed in the context of unprecedented levels of globalisation and technological advance”.

How traumatically and disturbingly unpatriotic! Well that was my initial reaction, but then I gave the subject further thought …

Rugby at school should be about building a skill base and being encouraged to utilise said skills while having a complete jol. There is plenty time after school for those skills to be coached out of them and replaced with “Wen rugby”!

The role of a school like Grey in our young son’s lives is to make them into better people, in fact the best people they can possibly be. And if that includes being a good – or even a great – rugby player as part of an unbeaten 1st XV, excellent. If not, the sun will still come up tomorrow.

Produce an arrogant ponce who has not the time for a team mate’s younger brother after a game, though, or a spoilt brat who shakes not the hand of the opposition after a loss, and they have failed.

But with rugby now a proper career choice, and given the “Pull” factor of foreign currency and the “Push” factor of local politics, perhaps schools should be playing a more proactive role in the creation of “The best possible tomorrow for everyone”?

The tragically sad part of it is that the best possible tomorrow for kids in school today might not lie in South Africa.


  1. Hallo Tank. Maybe you have, but if not, do yourself a favour and take a drive on the school ground of Grey, see the 3rd team trough to the 10th team practise, maybe attend assembly on n friday before a big game, see the change rooms, see of you can have lunch with the hostel boys, have a coke and a pie in the tuckshop, and I think you will have a different view of the type of people the school produces. I do not think they create spoiled brats, never in this country you will experience the amount of passion the boys in that school have. Its always been about providing the best possible oportunity for its boys, and if that is abroad, whos fault is that? I dont see articles about medical Docters of CA’s being lost because of a PWC transfer system to the US or the UK, and is shouldnt be different with reference to these young players. I do agree that it might not be a healthy situation, but to blame a school for the players leaving is just not right, its all about oportunity. Blame the system, the management, thats were the problem lies. The school creates great people that the system is to weak to absorb. You only have one chance. I trust that this will find you well, as I have no issue with the article, just feel your assesment of the schoolis wrong. Have a nice day.

    1. Thanks for a great comment Christian. Yep, your point about Grey producing great human beings is spot on, and that comment of mine was not aimed at Grey itself, more as an observation as an U20 coach at UCT. I see these guys come up to play U20 rugby after being used to playing in front of 5000 people each Saturday, only to have to take on Wheels and Whistles on a Saturday afternoon in front of their mom and the prop’s pet pug. It’s tough. I just wonder if we pander to the young guys a little too much with a view to keeping players, so scared are we of losing them. And then along comes a deal like this …

    2. I’m not defending Tank here, but I th8nk he was generalizing across the board here. He was talking about Grey, because of the situation with Montpellier. We all know what type of boys that school produces, but there schools where the opposite os true. There has been a running joke in the West Rand since my school days “How do you know a guy went to Monnas? He tella you…”. Anyway, it is unfortunately the reality of the society we live in. It’s unfortunate that young boys are leaving our shores, but you cannot be patriotic to the detriment of your own future. I can’t blame players for going abroad. It’s just sad when you think how these players could have and should have been Springboks. Paul Willemse, Jacques Du Plessis, Robert Ebersohn… the list goes on

  2. Mr. Lanning, thank you for the article, much of which I agree with (including the conclusion).

    As Old Grey and Director of the Badawi Trust, I’d like to make the following clarifications with reference to your statements (a) “Basically, thinly-disguised as a scholarship, Montpellier are hijacking the school that has produced the second-most Springboks of all time, in order to set up their own feeder system of young, talented players.” and (b) “Scholarship holders will need to demonstrate potential in leadership and/or academia, and particularly the sport of rugby.Note the last part of that sentence!”

    1. I note your use of the word “hijack” which interpreted in the context of the current political situation in South Africa is inaccurate at best. This project is the result of a voluntary engagement between the donor, Grey College, and the directors of Badawi (such as myself) who acted on a pro-bono basis in the interest of Grey College and its boys.

    2. I can confirm that the recorded objective of the Badawi scholarship programme pertains to enabling talented students, where they don’t have similar alternatives available to them, to attend Grey College.

    3. I can also confirm that there is no contractual or other obligation on any of the recipients of the programme to play rugby in France (or at all), or to repay the scholarships.

    4. The donor specified rugby potential in combination with academic and / or leadership qualities as a qualifying criteria, which in my view signals a nobler intent than what the article implies. The rugby (only) primadonna which you describe above will unfortunately not qualify for a scholarship which in my view is an outcome which you and I both endorse.

    With best wishes, and feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss it further.

    Chris Derksen

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